A ‘Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons’ story for Halloween
By Chris Bishop
The door couldn’t withstand the violent shove and flew open, nearly torn from its hinges. Captain Blue stood on one side, holding his gun in both hands, barrel upwards; his blue eyes looked around the dark room, in a quick inspection, searching for any sign of danger lurking in any corner. But there was no-one inside, and not a single sound could be heard. Carefully, one of his hands followed the wall inside, searching for the light switch. He found it and pushed the switch downwards. The room remained dark. He flicked the switch again. Still nothing.
“The lights are dead here too,” he muttered.
He lowered his eyes to Captain Ochre, who was crouched on the other side of the door, holding the Mysteron gun aimed towards the interior of the room. Lieutenant Green was standing over Ochre, his colour-coded gun in his hand, ready for action too. The three men exchanged a quick glance, before Ochre straightened up, and they entered fully, their movements fluid and cautious. Blue got his pen-like torch out of his pocket, and turned it on; a surprisingly powerful beam of light shone from it and he started exploring the room, from one end of the other.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s anyone here either,” Ochre commented in turn. He followed the torch beam with his gun, as if he expected that, in answer to his statement, someone – something – would suddenly leap from a dark corner, or from behind the furniture. But truly, the room seemed completely empty. “You’re sure this is the place?” he asked, addressing Green.
“Positive,” the younger man confirmed, as the three of them started walking around. “The house and the door are definitely those Scarlet described when he contacted me earlier.”
Ochre nodded in answer, as he approached to stand in front of a wide oak desk, adorned with a shut down computer. Lowering the Mysteron gun, and leaving it hanging from his shoulder by its strap, he tried to switch on the desk lamp. It stayed dead. He took his own pen-torch and shone the light onto the desk. It was clean of any papers, there was only a small notepad with blank pages, next to the phone.
“Very neat,” he mumbled. He stroked his fingers along the surface of the desk. “Mmm… the cleaning lady does a very good job around here. Even if it doesn’t seem as if there’s been anyone here for a while.”
“You think so?” Green reflected. “Doesn’t it strike you as strange?”
“I have to admit, it does look highly suspicious. And with Scarlet not having contacted us for the last three hours…”
“Four hours,” Green corrected Ochre.
“Why did he have to go off on his own like that?” Blue mumbled. “He should have waited for you, Lieutenant.”
“I don’t think it was entirely his fault, Captain,” Green defended his mission partner. “After all, each of us was following our own suspect. I was following McIntyre, and it just turned out he was clean.”
“Which left Ellsworth as our guilty party,” Ochre commented. “It just turned out it was Scarlet who was following him. Scarlet’s disappearance would then mean that he had either been found out or run into some kind of trouble.”
“Well, at the very least, he should have called for back up then, before coming in here,” Blue continued, dryly. It was obvious he was worried for his friend and usual partner. If he had not known him so well, Green would almost have thought that Blue was holding him in some way responsible for Scarlet’s recent disappearing act. Ochre shook his head.
“You have to admit, we were a little busy ourselves, at the other end of the city,” he reminded Blue. “Following that reported sighting of Captain Black…”
“Which turned out to be a wild goose chase,” Blue continued.
“Or a red herring. That expression would be more appropriate.”
“I don’t find that very funny,” Blue almost snapped.
“Will you relax?” Ochre said with a frown. “You know Scarlet will turn up eventually. There’s not much that can hurt him for good, you know that.”
“That ‘not much’ worries me at times,” Blue answered. “I just wish Scarlet would sometimes remember that there might be stuff that can hurt him. And hurt him really badly. But you know him… always rushing where angels fear to tread…” He tried to shrug it off, and then turned on his heels in his continued investigation of the room.
“This place is giving me the creeps,” Green said morosely, flashing his torch around.
“Yeah, me too,” Ochre answered. “It’s way too quiet.” He tried again for the lamp. “Wonder why there isn’t any light here? It’s not a general breakdown – the neighbours all have light.” As if to make sure, he stepped in front of the window, just behind the desk, and pulled the blind slightly aside to look outside. All the windows he could see in the London street beyond were lit from inside. Blue and Green were still moving around the room.
It was a big office, decorated with taste, if a little soberly. A huge bookcase covered the wall right to the desk. Checking the titles, Blue could see that almost all of them were medical textbooks. Some looked rather old, bound with very expensive and ancient leather covers; obviously, they were very precious to their owner as they were all put together on the most accessible shelf of the bookcase, right at eye level.
“We seemed to have broken into a doctor’s house,” Blue commented.
“What?” Ochre crossed the distance separating him from his colleague, just as the latter was taking a rather thick book between his hands, to slowly turn the pages. They both were checking the title when Green joined them.
“‘An Anatomical Digest’,” Blue read quietly.
“That’s a digest?” Ochre asked, incredulously. “What does the ‘big book on anatomy’ looks like, then?”
“Apparently, this is the office of a surgeon,” Green replied, as Blue was closing the book.
“Great,” mumbled Ochre. “With our luck, a very reputable one, who will sue our butts for breaking and entering.”
“Look around, Ochre,” Blue replied. “You have seen the rest of the house. Does it look like the home of a reputable doctor?”
Ochre conceded it. “At first glance, no.”
“More like a clandestine office, maybe?” Green offered. “We found what looks like an examination room next door. But there’s no sign on the door… and no diplomas on the wall.”
Ochre nodded thoughtfully, as he continued to walk around the place. “Well observed. That should add to our suspicions that there’s something odd about this place.”
“Unfortunately, there’s no trace of Scarlet around either,” Blue continued.
“So, there’s nothing to tell us that this place is actually related to our investigation,” Ochre commented.
“I’m sure this is the place Captain Scarlet told me about, during his last radio contact with me,” Green insisted. “It fits the description. And in this street, there’s no other house like it.”
“Well, perhaps it is the place,” Ochre sighed. “But it’s obvious we won’t find anything. This is the last room we’ve checked, and if there ever was someone in here, that someone’s been gone for quite some time.”
“Then where is Scarlet?” Blue asked insistently, walking toward his colleague.
“I don’t know… Maybe we should call for backup to properly search the place from top to bottom. We might then find a clue to –”
“Wait.” Blue had frozen in his tracks; he suddenly looked attentive. To Green and Ochre, it was obvious that something had caught his attention.
Ochre’s brow furrowed, as he wondered what it could be. “What is it?”
“Do you feel it?” Blue asked. “There’s a draught…”
Obviously, by the clueless expressions on their faces, they had no idea what Blue was talking about, so he slowly moved forwards, extending his open hand in front of him. He returned to the bookcase, moving his hand slowly up and down. Ochre and Green watched with curiosity, and then approached when Blue stopped at a very precise place in front of the bookcase, very close to the desk.
“Here,” Blue said. “It comes from here.” As if to make his point, he took a piece of paper from the notepad on the desk and placed it where his hand had stopped a second ago. Ochre and Green watched, and they saw the paper move, obviously disturbed by a very faint current of air.
“See what I mean?” Blue said.
“Where does it come from?” Green asked.
“From behind that case, obviously,” Blue answered, regarding with attention the bookcase with its rows and rows of books. Slowly, he started searching, caressing the spines carefully.
“Oh, come on!” Ochre protested with obvious derision. “You’re not telling me there’s a ‘secret passageway’ behind that bookcase! That would be too –”
He heard a ‘click’ as Blue touched the spine of one book, and then the case started moving. The blond officer looked over his shoulder to grin at his dejected and surprised-looking colleague. “‘Cliché’, would be the word you were about to say?”
“Oh, shut up,” Ochre muttered with bad humour. “Those English… they’re really too predictable.”
“I’ll give you the pleasure of telling Scarlet that,” Blue answered. “But for now… We have still some investigations to make.”
He pushed the concealed door open, carefully; a stronger draught hit the three men in the face, and with it, a rather unpleasant smell that made them gasp and moan in concert. Blue hid his nose in the crook of his arm, while Ochre turned his head in disgust. Green kept two steps behind them, trying his best not to breathe in the awful smell.
“Jesus God…” Ochre gasped. “What a stink! Smells like –”
“Blood,” said Blue, interrupting his colleague. “It smells like spilled blood. Lots of it.”
He didn’t say any more on the subject, and neither did Ochre nor Green, and the three of them crossed the doorway, Blue marching up front, their minds suddenly filled with dread for their missing colleague.
“It’s not a passageway,” Green noticed. “It’s a secret room…”
“Gimme a break,” Ochre muttered. “This is way too weird…”
They entered fully, flashing the light of their torches around. Blue’s foot nearly slipped, as the floor was covered with some kind of thick, oily substance. Ochre, who was right behind him, caught him in time before he could fall; a second later, three combined beams of light were directed down to their feet. They discovered, quite rapidly, a human body, lying in a pool of blood, the empty eyes staring at them.
“Who – ?” Blue started.
“Ellsworth,” Green said grimly, recognising the man as Scarlet’s Mysteron quarry.
Ochre crouched next to the dead man. “He’s been shot in the chest. Looks like he has been dead for quite some time. That explains the smell. Scarlet seems to have done a good job on him.”
“Scarlet… or someone else?” muttered Blue. “And again… where is Scarlet?”
He shone his light around anew. The room was large enough, and looked like some kind of laboratory, with instruments lying on a table against the far wall. There were some kind of electrical devices all around the place, and somehow, they looked familiar to Blue, although at the moment, he couldn’t recall where he could have seen something similar.
In the middle of the room, there was a huge assembly of switched off spots hanging from the ceiling, and just underneath this, a padded table, empty; it hit Blue instantly at that moment what this place reminded him of. And he heard Green, behind him, muttering the same realisation that had come into his mind:
“It looks like an operating theatre…”
The light of Blue’s torch suddenly settled on a second table, beyond the first one; on this one there was another body, covered from head to toes with a bloody shroud. A hand was hanging down from the side of the table, from under the shroud. Blue’s heart missed a beat and then started beating faster. The sleeve he could see was sporting a Spectrum emblem.
Ochre and Green had seen too, and they all raced around the first table to approach the second one. Blue stood by as Ochre carefully removed the shroud from the body’s face.
Captain Scarlet’s handsome, but deathly pale, face appeared to them, his eyes closed, the side of his head still encrusted with dried blood. Blue let out a groan, that nearly covered Ochre’s muttered curse and Green’s gasp, before dropping his cap mic and contacting Cloudbase.
“Colonel White, we found him,” he announced into the mic with obvious relief in his voice.
Finally, he added inwardly.
“Good news, Captain,” his commander’s voice sounded in his ears. “How is he?”
Ochre was already checking their colleague’s neck for a pulse, but as soon as he did, he turned to Blue and shook his head grimly.
“Dead, sir,” Blue said morosely. “He appears to have been for a few hours. So he shouldn’t take that much longer to revive.”
“What happened to him?”
“We don’t know as yet. We found Ellsworth’s body as well.”
“So, as Scarlet suspected, he was the Mysteron.”
“Well, we have not checked that yet, sir. But if he was, he won’t be doing any harm now. He appears to have been permanently killed. It’s anyone’s guess what could have happened here.”
“Bring Scarlet back to Cloudbase quickly, Captain,” Colonel White instructed. “I’m sure he’ll be able to tell us what has been going on once he revives.”
“S.I.G., sir.” Blue cut the channel. The relief was now showing all over his face, as he turned to face Ochre and Green, who were still examining their dead colleague. However, Ochre looked rather grim, and Green’s face seemed filled with concern. Blue could understand their feelings; neither of them had been faced with Scarlet’s numerous deaths, and subsequent miraculous recoveries, as often as he had. So it was normal that they would feel apprehensive about this bizarre situation.
But Blue quickly realised that there was more than that to Ochre’s uneasiness, as he was peering underneath the shroud; the white fabric was literally soaked with dark red blood right over Scarlet’s chest. Blue imagined that his friend had been shot several times, or stabbed brutally, for the shroud to be in such a bloody mess. But then, he saw Ochre step back with a start, his eyes suddenly opening wide with shock.
“Oh, dear Lord…” All colour left Ochre’s face, and he turned away, almost instinctively, under Blue’s confused gaze. Green seemed to be as puzzled as Blue, as he, too, watched Ochre’s rather unusual behaviour. Obviously he had not seen whatever it was that Ochre had seen, to leave him so speechless.
Unnerved, Blue stepped forward to where Ochre had previously stood, and pulled away the shroud still covering Scarlet’s chest.
Green gasped loudly and Ochre muttered a curse. Blue froze, before becoming very pale at the horrible sight that presented itself to him.
Scarlet’s shirt had been torn open, and right in the middle of his naked chest was a bloody, gory hole, large enough for Blue to put his hand through it. The flesh on each side of the horrible wound was held aside by surgical pliers; there was still a scalpel lying on the table, by the body’s side, covered with blood.
Blue stepped back, almost without thinking about it, unable to detach his eyes from the horrifying scene. His heart started beating faster still, and he was aware that his breathing had increased considerably; he was nearly hyperventilating. Behind him, he could hear Green gagging, as if the younger man was fighting violently not to throw up.
Blue shook his head, his mind unable to accept what he was seeing. He forced himself to close his eyes and turned away, almost savagely tearing himself from the ghastly sight. His fingers fiddled with the microphone from his cap, pushing it down into position manually; they were trembling. His legs were also shaking violently. He felt the need to steady against the wall.
“Colonel White,” he breathed into his mic. He barely heard the acknowledgement answering his call. His mind was almost numb; it could only see the horrible sight he had just seen, as if it was branded into his memory, never to be forgotten. “Colonel, we have a problem…” He swallowed hard. The lump in his throat refused to go down. “It’s Captain Scarlet…”
“God in Heaven,” he heard Ochre say by his side, as his colleague was making a supreme effort to regain his composure. “Who could have done this? What the Hell happened here?”
“I was waiting for you, Mister Ellsworth.”
Clay Ellsworth looked around the dark room in suspicion. He was alone with the man seated in a wheelchair on the other side of the large oak desk. The feeble light coming from the lamp on the desk was gently beaming down on the man’s weak and pale face. Ellsworth considered the oxygen bottle fixed to the chair, with the mask attached to it and hanging on the man’s chest. Although still young enough – Ellsworth would make him around forty – he was obviously a very sick man. One who could pose no threat to him.
“You are Vincent? Frank Vincent?”
The man nodded, noting the perplexed tone in Ellsworth’s voice. “You seem surprised. Is something the matter?”
“You are not exactly like I imagined you to be,” Ellsworth answered quietly.
“Oh?” The sick man moved his wheelchair to round the desk and approach Ellsworth; the latter simply stood there, staring as the chair stopped a few feet in front of him. “And what did you expect exactly?”
“Quite frankly, from what I heard of your… expertise… I thought you would be…” Ellsworth obviously struggled to find the right definition he was looking for. “…a bit more healthy,” he finally finished.
The man named Vincent chuckled, but that almost caused him to choke and he started coughing. Ellsworth watched as he took his mask and put it over his mouth and his nose to take a deep breath of oxygen.
“Believe me, I looked quite different, years ago,” Vincent answered, in a strangled voice. “Younger, healthier…That was when I gained my… expertise, as you put it.”
“You’re still as good as you were then?”
Vincent nodded again at the question. “Better, I’m more experienced.” He looked over the mask, into Ellsworth’s doubtful face. He smiled thinly. “You don’t believe me?”
“Your reputation precedes you,” Ellsworth replied quickly. “Although, admittedly, you disappeared from public view quite some time ago…”
“Well, I don’t have to tell YOU why,” Vincent retorted.
“Yes, I know you have been arrested,” Ellsworth answered. “But there were rumours that you had been killed, soon after your relatively recent release from prison.”
“As you can see, I am not dead,” Vincent remarked. “Not quite, anyway. You could say I am hanging on to life, however pitiful it might seem to you, with all the strength that remains in me.”
“Obviously.” There wasn’t even the single trace of emotion on Ellsworth’s face as he spoke.
“But we are not here to discuss my health,” Vincent said. “You contacted me two weeks ago… and gave me a commission.”
“On the recommendation of a mutual… friend,” Ellsworth answered. “From what I learned from him, you would be the best man for the job I had in mind.”
“I can easily imagine what he told you about me,” Vincent smirked. “And how is the dear old chap?”
Ellsworth shook his head. “Not too bad, but in our line of work, that is something that’s liable to change at each passing day.”
“As I well know,” Vincent commented musingly.
“Did you complete the commission?”
“Following my specifications?”
“I always follow my clients’ specifications, Mr. Ellsworth. I take pride in my work. Although, I have to admit… I was rather surprised that such as you – a man in your position – would be contacting me for this kind of work. What is the matter exactly, you decided you have had enough working for the Government? You saw things that disgusted you that much?”
“My reasons are my own.” Ellsworth frowned deeply. “Enough of the niceties. Give it to me, please.”
Frank Vincent raised his brows. “What, right now?”
Ellsworth was growing impatient. Slowly, he took a gun out of his pocket; the sight of it didn’t seem to impress Vincent that much.
“You don’t need that, I assure you.”
“I’m in rather a hurry,” Ellsworth snapped, his voice becoming like ice. “I have an important mission, Mr. Vincent, and I need the bomb you built for me, in order to complete it. Give it to me. Now.”
“Mr. Ellsworth…There are still a few details we need to discuss, before –”
“Later.” Ellsworth aimed the gun straight at Vincent’s chest. “I’ll waste no more time. Either you give me that bomb, or…”
Vincent looked down at the barrel aimed at him and shook his head.
“There’s really no need for threats, Mr. Ellsworth,” he replied hurriedly. He pointed with his finger, toward the bookcase behind his desk. “If you permit me…?”
Ellsworth didn’t move, and watched warily as Vincent moved his chair around and towards the bookcase. He stopped in front of it and seemed to check the various titles on one specific shelf with attention, before finally setting his mind on one. He raised his arm and after stroking the spine, pulled on the book.
There was an audible click, and the secret door concealed within the bookcase slowly slid aside to reveal an opening. Vincent turned his chair around. “Through there,” he invited Ellsworth. “You’ll find what you came for.”
The latter stared suspiciously at the dark opening. He walked to it, and tried to see inside. There was no light and he couldn’t see a thing. He looked down at Vincent, who shook his head. “Did you expect me to keep a bomb in here, where it could be found?” the wheelchair-bound man remarked casually enough. “I had to keep it away from prying eyes. I would not have liked my father to accidentally discover it.”
“Of course not,” Ellsworth remarked, cynically enough.
“Before we go in there, Mr. Ellsworth,” Vincent continued. “There is still something else we have to discuss. The little matter of payment for my services…”
Ellsworth’s expression grew suddenly cold.
“I gave what you asked for.”
“Not everything. What about money?”
“You will be paid, Vincent. Justly, for the work you have done.” Ellsworth cocked the hammer of his gun. Only then was he able to notice the faint shiver in the wheelchair-bound man in front of him. He smiled cruelly. “Thank you very much for your work, Mr. Vincent…”
“Don’t move, Ellsworth!”
The stern and strong voice that rang out behind him made Ellsworth freeze on the spot. No… those damned Earthmen cannot have followed me in here! Anger filled his mind, as did the sudden thought that he might not be able to complete his mission. He turned on his heel, gun at the ready, fully prepared to face whoever was standing behind him.
He noticed a tall man, dressed in a red and black uniform, standing right beside the open door that he had walked through a second earlier, and recognised him as one of those accursed Spectrum officers that had been following him all day. With a growl of rage, Ellsworth aimed at the tall figure, his finger already squeezing the trigger. But there was no more time left for him.
In a matter of seconds, a series of shots rang inside the room. Hit in the chest by multiple bullets, Clay Ellsworth toppled like a felled tree, right through the entrance of the concealed room.
Frank Vincent, had watched the scene with eyes wide open in complete astonishment, and was now looking with obvious dismay at the man lying dead nearly at his feet. “Oh no…” he whispered, gasping. “No, it can’t be… What have you done?” He raised his eyes and glared at the red-clad man who was now entering the room, his gun still smoking from its recent use.
“You’ve killed him,” Frank Vincent said sourly, his eyes leaving the stern face of the Spectrum officer to look down once again at the dead man at his feet. “My God, you have killed him…”
“His heart is missing.”
Colonel White was in the sickbay waiting room when Doctor Fawn, hours after Captain Ochre had returned to Cloudbase with Captain Scarlet’s body, came to him to inform him of the latest news regarding Spectrum’s number one agent. Despite having learned from Captain Blue by radio, and then by Captain Ochre when the latter came to the Control Room for his debriefing, in what mess Scarlet had been found, the information provided by Fawn had all the effect of a sledgehammer hitting White behind the knees. He froze upon hearing the words, and had to make a supreme effort not to shiver.
“What do you mean, his heart is missing?” the Spectrum commander asked with a frown. “Doctor, that doesn’t make any sense! Do you imply his heart was – ”
“Stolen?” Fawn went to the water dispenser and served himself a cupful that he drank greedily. He crushed the empty paper cup in his hand, in a frustrated, almost angry gesture. “As absurd as it may sound, it’s exactly what happened to him. Someone took his heart. Removed it from his chest.”
“What?” White murmured. “You mean… completely?”
“Completely. Oh but… they removed it very cautiously, taking great care not to damage it, or any of the arteries attached to it. They obviously wanted it in perfect condition. It was a precision job, that I can tell you. The kind of work only a highly skilled surgeon could do.” He savagely threw the crushed cup into the nearby basket. “Not the work of a butcher, damn it… a surgeon!”
“A surgeon?” White repeated with perplexity. “But to what purpose would someone do that?”
“That, Colonel, is anyone’s guess. I can’t fathom a good enough reason for someone to take the heart from the chest of a healthy, living, breathing man.” Fawn grew morose again. “Because he was alive when they did that. I don’t know if he was conscious – I hope he was not – but he was definitely alive.”
White kept his expression as neutral as possible at these words. “Is he recovering?”
“You mean, like he usually does?” Fawn sighed. “You have to understand, he never lost a vital organ that way. I mean – never completely gone from his body. Damaged, yes – beyond repair, if he had been another man, without his kind of healing factor. But this… this is something different. Something like a new ‘experience’ for him. An experience he could certainly have done without!”
“So he’s not healing?” White asked dolefully.
Fawn shook his head. “No. Not completely. That wound is not healing, anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“His healing power is working. The wound to his head is all but completely gone, but as far as the heart is concerned… His power is trying to repair that, I can see it, but it’s so very slow… I can’t actually tell if his retrometabolism can heal it. Maybe it would, eventually, with time. But then again, maybe his power can’t regenerate his heart since it’s completely gone and there’s not a single trace of it… You know, to use as a pattern? How can his retrometabolism regenerate something that is not there to begin with?”
“So he is dead, then,” White sombrely concluded.
Fawn grunted and turned his back on White to pour himself another cup of water. “Oh, he’s alive…” he whispered, before taking a sip, causing White to look at his back with surprise. “Just…” He gulped the rest of the water. He would certainly have preferred if it had been something alcoholic – and very strong. He felt he needed it. He turned on his heel to face White again.
“He’s alive?” White repeated with a renewed frown. “How can it be possible, then, if – ”
“A normal man would be dead. But we are talking about Captain Scarlet here. Fortunately for him, we had the proper equipment in sickbay,” Fawn explained. “We plugged him into a heart-lung machine. The sort used for cardiopulmonary bypasses – with patients whose heart and/or lungs are so damaged that they fail completely. It’s normally a temporary measure, while the patient is waiting for a new heart. The model we have looks like a thick electronic corset of some sort, that is put around the patient’s chest. It would be used when there are extensive waiting periods…”
“So you are using that kind of machine to keep the blood pumping around his body?” White said.
“Yes, that’s exactly it. As soon as we connected him to the machine and began the ‘treatment’, his retrometabolism kicked in and he started reviving again. As I’m speaking to you right now, cerebral activity has returned… but he can’t breathe by himself without the help of the machine.” Fawn blew a deep sigh. “And, not surprisingly, he has not regained consciousness either.”
White looked clearly disappointed. “Then he can’t tell us what exactly happened to him,” he reflected.
“Have a care, Colonel,” Fawn almost snapped. “It’s already a miracle in itself that he’s alive to begin with. You can’t expect to interrogate him as soon as he opens his eyes. If he ever opens them again!”
White carefully weighed what he was about to say; it was so obvious that Fawn was frustrated with the situation – even incensed at what had been done to Scarlet. It wouldn’t take that much for the doctor to lose his cool and vent his anger on the first person available – him, under the circumstances.
“I understand what you’re feeling, Edward,” White said, in a low, gentle tone. “Don’t you think I find all this abominable? I only meant that if Scarlet is able to give us a clue to what happened, we might find a way to catch those who did this to him – and maybe help him.”
“How? By finding where his heart had been taken to?” There was doubt in Fawn’s voice. “What good will it do him?”
“Think, Doctor. If whoever took his heart did it with so much care, it’s certainly because they had a need for that heart. Whatever it might be.”
“The only need I could see for a stolen heart would be if it had been taken by some kind of organ theft ring…” Fawn waved the thought aside. “I’ve heard of kidney thefts, lungs, livers… even eyes. But a heart… I don’t recall any instance.”
“It only takes a first time, Doctor,” White reminded him.
“Yes… But then… why leave the other organs, and not take them? They would be precious as well. This doesn’t quite add up.” Fawn shrugged and sighed heavily. “Still… I suppose it’s possible, then. But can you imagine how horrible it would be?”
“I also imagine that if it is the case, we might actually be able to locate where his heart is at the moment, and get it back.”
“And put it back where it belongs?” Fawn said musingly.
“Don’t you think it would help him recuperate fully, if we were able to do that?”
“Surely,” Fawn replied, frowning in a thoughtful way. “It certainly could be worth a try… If his body should be whole again, then there’s a good chance his retrometabolism would act as it usually does. But we would need to act quickly then. Because if it is the case, if his heart has really been stolen by an organ theft ring, then it might soon find itself in the chest of another person, a poor soul in dire need of a transplant, who would not even suspect where his or her new heart comes from!” He grunted and shook his head. “I don’t see myself cutting an innocent’s chest to get that heart back, Colonel... that would be signing that person’s death warrant.”
“Then you are absolutely right, Doctor: it is imperative that we act quickly to locate those who stole Scarlet’s heart.”
Fawn’s brow furrowed, as he was thinking of other possibilities. One came to his mind. “What about if it was orchestrated by the Mysterons?” he asked.
White shook his head. “To what purpose, exactly? In the hope that Scarlet wouldn’t recover from it? Doctor, that wouldn’t explain why the operation to remove his heart was performed so carefully.”
“That’s true, yes…”
“Besides, the Mysteron agent that Scarlet was trying to apprehend when this… incident… occurred, has been found dead in the same room. His heart had been riddled with bullets. From Scarlet’s gun, according to the ballistics and autopsy report.” He kept silent for a second, before adding: “So I guess our best hopes reside within that house where Scarlet was found. Whoever lives – or lived – in that house, could possibly be responsible for Scarlet’s predicament. According to Captains Blue and Ochre, it looked like the clandestine office of a surgeon. And according to you, this surgeon would have to be very skilled to perform that operation to remove Scarlet’s heart.”
“Oh yes… That’s one of the neatest job I have ever seen,” Fawn answered bitterly. “That kind of procedure can only have been done by a very talented surgeon. There can be no mistake about it.”
“Right. We’ll look into the files of every clandestine doctor, and physicians with criminal records we can lay hands on.”
“Hoping whoever did this to him indeed has a criminal record,” Fawn grumbled.
“We can only hope that the house where Scarlet was found will give us enough information on its residents, then. Our intelligence office will investigate it thoroughly. We will have results quickly.” White sighed. “However, in the meanwhile, we still have a mission to pursue.”
“You mean the latest Mysteron threat against the British Prime Minister?” Fawn enquired. “You don’t think it has been averted, then?”
“I don't know, Doctor. It would seem to be over and done with, as the Mysteron suspect whom we believed was to attack the Prime Minister has been killed by Scarlet. But who knows if this new affair doesn't still have something to do with it?”
“I really fail to see how stealing Scarlet's heart would have anything to do with any attack on the Prime Minister, Colonel.”
“Me neither, Doctor, But I don't want to take any risks. At least for the moment. Plus, as a special request from the Prime Minister, we are working with the British section of the Secret Service on this affair,” White added a little sulkily. “I have the impression that our every move is being watched at the moment. We certainly do not want to make any mistake by hurriedly assuming that all danger is passed. If something should happen then, it would be too embarrassing.”
“I can understand that you wouldn’t want Spectrum personnel to appear like bumbling fools in front of your old command, Colonel,” Fawn said with a faint smile.
“At least, we are dealing with the director of the USS British division, and not with Shane Weston himself in this affair,” White mumbled. His dislike of the Universal Secret Service’s supreme director wasn’t a secret from Fawn whose smile broadened ever so slightly at the sound of the discontentment he could hear in the Spectrum commander’s voice. “Fortunately, Lee Terence is a far easier man to work with. I will be calling him and will tell him I’m leaving the security team led by Captain Grey for the protection of the Prime Minister, to continue to collaborate with his men. Barring that team, I’ll be putting all agents I can spare on the search for Scarlet’s attackers. I want these people caught as quickly as possible. At any cost.” White put his hand on Fawn's shoulder. “Keep Scarlet comfortable, in the meantime. And if there's any change at all in his condition...”
“I'm keeping two nurses at his bedside, to monitor him,” Fawn replied. “And I don't plan to go away either.” He shook his head, and his smile returned, but this time, it was a sad one. “He also has his own personal nurse, I might add.”
“Rhapsody?” White enquired.
Fawn nodded. “She was at his side as soon as I allowed it. I figured that her presence by his side, considering the circumstances, could do him a lot of good. Even if he’s unconscious. At any rate, it can’t do him any harm.”
“Of course. I’ll sign her ‘off duty’, then. And I’ll only call on her if it becomes absolutely necessary.”
“Thank you, Colonel. I don’t think she cares anymore that people might talk about a possible relationship between them.”
“She has more worrying thoughts in her mind,” White agreed. “Well, all the same: don’t tell her about my decision. She doesn’t have to know I’m perfectly aware of her relationship with Scarlet.”
“S.I.G. I always knew you had a soft spot for her in your heart, Charles.” As White didn’t answer that, Fawn thought it better to change the subject. “Don't worry. If there is the slightest change in Scarlet’s condition, I'll inform you right away.”
“Thank you, Doctor. You realise, of course, that considering the situation, if Scarlet does wake up, and is able to give us some clues to what happened to him...”
“I realise that, Colonel, but I have to warn you: quite frankly, even if he was to wake up, which I think is unlikely, I doubt he will be able to talk to anyone at all.”
Colonel White kept silent for a brief second, then nodded his understanding, before turning on his heel, and directing his steps towards the exit. “Do take good care of him, anyway, Doctor,” he added before leaving.
“S.I.G., Colonel. That goes without saying.” Fawn watched grimly as Colonel White left sickbay.
He felt like he wanted to throw up.
But he didn't have enough strength to do so; he didn't have much strength to do anything at all, truth to tell, not even to raise his heavy head, or even one finger.
This awakening felt so very strange; as if his whole body was numb, cold, and terribly heavy all over. But at the same time, he felt so awkwardly detached from it. Yet, there was no pain whatsoever; except for that soreness in his throat that was making him want to vomit.
What was happening to him? Hell if he knew.
His mind was in a haze; it was a struggle to think, to concentrate on what was going on at the moment, let alone try to recall his last memories. That was also peculiar; normally, he never had that much trouble waking up after he had been wounded – or even killed, for that matter. He would wake up fresh, although thirsty and famished, and ready for another fight, his retrometabolism having completely healed his wounds, no matter how severe or numerous they might have been, his health restored completely.
Apparently it wasn't the case right now; somehow, for some unknown reason, his extraordinary abilities had failed him.
Desperate to find an answer to his now unusual predicament, he forced himself to think, to concentrate on his surroundings. It was only then that he noticed the hissing sound of a respirator pump nearby, that seemed to be working in rhythm with another noise, a constant pounding, that was filling his ears like a grumbling thunder. In the background, there was yet another sound, a kind of continuous beeping which sounded like a cardiac monitor.
There was something pasted onto his face – around his mouth and nose. Some kind of tape, that was keeping an object in place. A hose - no, a tube, he corrected inwardly, as he realised what was rubbing so uncomfortably against the sides of his throat. And that tube, he could only imagine, was probably connected to that respirator pump he was hearing.
There was something definitely wrong, he thought. Why was he plugged into this contraption? Why did he need this tube shoved down into his throat to breathe? Why did he felt so disconnected from himself? Why did he have this strange sensation of something missing, of not being whole?
And suddenly, it came right back to him and he remembered; his last conscious memories of what had happened to him… And immediately, he knew a rare instant of panic, that sent through his body enough adrenaline for him to find the necessary strength to open his eyes, and stare in disbelief at the ceiling hanging high over him. He could feel more than he could really see the cold steel case which covered his torso from the shoulder down to his hips, a contraption surrounded with wires and tubes that he could barely see at the limits of his sight, and could only imagine attached to him all over his numb and imprisoned body…
And could only guess what their functions could be…
He wanted to scream, but he couldn’t even do that. He could only lie there and remember… Remember and wonder what it was exactly that they had done to him…
“You’ve killed him. My God, you have killed him.”
Captain Scarlet narrowed his eyes, looking with suspicion at the man seated in his wheelchair. His reaction was a surprising one. After all, Ellsworth had been threatening to kill him. But instead of feeling relieved that his life had been spared and that the Mysteron agent would not pose any threat to him anymore, he looked like he had lost his best friend.
That was curious indeed.
Just as Scarlet was making that observation to himself, the man looked up from the body which had fallen beyond the opened secret door and was now staring at the Spectrum officer, a distressed expression on his face. “What did you do that for? You only had to neutralize him...”
Scarlet frowned, upon hearing the remonstrance. It was not as if he had any choice, to tell the truth. Even wounded, a Mysteron agent could still be potentially dangerous. He could transform himself into a living bomb, for example. Even dead, there was still the possibility that he would revive. At the moment, however, Scarlet couldn’t see any sign that this would happen for Ellsworth.
“Save it,” Scarlet snapped with annoyance. “That’s rich, coming from the likes of you!” He raised his gun, still smoking, and levelled it at Vincent’s head. The man didn’t even flinch. “I know who you are. So I know you are no better than him.”
“I have to say I don’t know what you mean,” the handicapped man replied, frowning. He coughed, and put the respirator mask attached to his wheelchair over his nose and mouth, breathing deeply. He removed the mask to speak again. “As you can see, I’m just a very sick man…”
“That you are,” Scarlet replied dryly. “Do you think your condition is going to make me have any sympathy for you? If you are really as ill as you appear, then I think it’s poetic justice, considering all the atrocities you’ve committed in your life.”
The man frowned. “Do I know you…?”
“Captain Scarlet, Spectrum. We never met. But I am familiar with your work. You are Francis Vincent. I’ve seen what your bombs can do, all the deaths that they caused all over the world.”
“Vincent… that’s not my name.”
“Don’t lie to me. I heard Ellsworth say it.” Scarlet indicated the dead man at his feet. “And it’s not by chance that he’s in your house. He came to see you. I heard your little talk: you were to build a bomb for him. Where is it, Vincent?”
“There’s no bomb, I can assure you of that,” the man replied with a shake of his head. “Listen, you are wrong about me. I am not the man you think. Okay, so you found me out: I was Frank Vincent. But that was in another life. I’ve been to prison, I paid for my crimes. I’ve… changed now. I’ve got a weak heart, you see… and that opened my eyes. I don’t do the things I used to do…”
“No, because you’re too sick to do them anymore, isn’t that right?” There was sarcasm in Scarlet’s voice as he spoke, but Frank Vincent didn’t even react. The Spectrum officer stepped forward to the man in the wheelchair. “You told Ellsworth you had his bomb ready,” he continued.
“I lied to him.”
“I doubt it. For a man in your situation, it would be a very dangerous game to play with your ‘clients’, don’t you think? Now where’s that bomb, Vincent?”
There was a pause as Vincent seemed to ponder what next to do. He glanced once more at the body lying on the floor, before giving a deep sigh. He then nodded in the direction of the open door. “Through there,” he finally answered. “I was about to show it to Ellsworth, when –” He interrupted himself and coughed anew; he needed to take another brief breath from his respirator. He seemed tired, and his face was very pale. Scarlet waited.
“I’ll take you there,” Vincent finally added.
He started moving his chair around the body, breathing hard as he did. Scarlet, still very mistrusting, was watching him intently, keeping a distance from him. The body was blocking his way, and it seemed obvious that Vincent would not be able to go through. The Spectrum officer stepped forward. “Wait.”
Vincent turned his chair around and addressed an enquiring look to Scarlet.
“Move back,” the latter said, approaching. “I’ll get him out of the way and I’ll go through first.”
Vincent pulled his chair away, and Scarlet came to stand over the body. Keeping a watchful eye on the wheelchair-bound man, who obviously didn’t carry a weapon on his person, he decided it was safe to put his own sidearm away for an instant and crouched down to take the body under the armpits. At the same time, he discreetly felt for a pulse. There was none; not a single sign indicating that Ellsworth would be reviving ever again to carry out his masters’ evil plans.
Apparently, like numerous times before, the Mysterons, considering that their agent had failed at his mission, had abandoned him to his fate and left him to die.
Without further thought, Scarlet pulled the body aside, pushing it against the wall inside the dark room, making just enough space for the wheelchair to go through. The room was pitch-dark. Scarlet rose to his feet, and turned once more to Vincent. The latter had started coughing again, this time violently, and was pressing his mask against his face, taking deep breaths, as he seemed to start hyper-ventilating.
“The switch is by the door,” Vincent said, gasping. “On the left.”
Scarlet narrowed his eyes at Vincent, as the latter, fighting a fit of violent coughing, seemed to be more preoccupied with using his oxygen mask than with what the Spectrum officer could be doing.
For a brief instant, it occurred to Scarlet that the man might be faking it – perhaps simply to raise compassion in the Spectrum officer for his fate.
Carefully, his hand followed the wall, on the left of the door, and eventually found the switch about four feet above the floor. He pressed the button.
Suddenly, the real reason for Vincent’s behaviour became clear to him.
It was all a decoy.
Scarlet understood this, at almost the same instant as the light came up, and a violent surge of electric current suddenly ran from the switch to him, with a loud zapping sound. The Spectrum officer was unable to let go of the switch as all his muscles froze and pain made him cry out. His vision blurred, and he found himself barely able to think. As the electric current ceased to course through his limbs, he was able to let go of the switch, but his knees buckled underneath his now numb and unresponsive body, and he fell forward. He had no chance to break his fall, and the impact forced the air out of his lungs.
As Scarlet struggled to raise himself from the floor, something hard came into contact with the back of his head. He saw stars and the floor suddenly rushed to his face once more. Stunned by the traitorous blow from behind, he saw two pairs of feet directly in his line of vision. There were two men in the room that he had not seen until now. One, tall and of brutish appearance, was standing over him, holding some kind of a wooden club between his huge hands.
The other man stood behind the first one; he was much shorter and thinner, and much older, with white hair, and deep wrinkles marking his thin face, and his blue eyes reflected all the worry and the uncertainty he was obviously feeling about what was happening in front of his eyes. Noticing how Scarlet was watching him, he drew a deep, uneasy breath, and shook his head, regretfully. “I’m sorry, I –”
The old man’s weak and shaky apology died on his lips as footsteps made themselves heard and Scarlet saw a new pair of legs approaching. Still fighting to regain his senses, he raised bleary eyes, only to see that Frank Vincent had miraculously left his wheelchair to walk towards him; he didn’t seem very steady on his feet, but he was keeping himself upright, and didn’t seem to have that much trouble breathing.
“Well done, Ian,” he told the brutish-looking man, as he stopped by his side. He took the club from the man’s hands and stood over Scarlet, looking down at him without any remorse reflected on his pale and perspiring face.
“Still groggy, are you, Captain?” Frank Vincent said quietly. “I have to apologise. This… trap wasn’t exactly set for you. It’s just by chance that you stumbled on it, I’m afraid to say. We were actually after Ellsworth. Nobody would have missed a low-life like him. Nobody would have really looked for him, or question what could have happened to him.” His voice became very cold. “You should have believed me. I never had any intention of giving a bomb to Ellsworth. I only meant to use him… for my own ends. But thanks to you, that bastard is useless now. His heart is useless.” His face became hard. “But I’m sure yours will make a fine replacement.”
Sensing what would come next, Scarlet made a last desperate attempt to escape. It was already too late as, with a roar that called on all of his reserves, Vincent raised the club in both hands and brought it down on the defenceless man sprawled at his feet. The next thing Scarlet saw was a wall of red, before total pain and darkness engulfed him.
The voice reached Scarlet’s tortured mind; a truly angelic voice, sweet and comforting, that he knew so well. It plunged him into confusion. Was it a dream? It sounded so real, and so close to him…
He could only move his head very slightly, but it was enough for him to see the face to whom this voice belonged. It was hovering just over him, upside down; a beautiful face, surrounded by a wondrous halo of coppery red hair. She had probably been standing there all along, just at the head of his bed, and had simply moved a little, to enter his line of vision. He could feel her hands now, on his brow, comfortingly caressing him.
The fact that she was there was reassuring in itself; it meant he wasn’t in enemy hands, but that Spectrum had found him, and brought him back. Back on Cloudbase, in sickbay. But in what state was he actually found? He was still at a loss to know what exactly had happened to him. The only thing helping him to fill in the blanks was that bit of memory, of the last events he could remember… Then nothing.
There was something else after that, he knew it, or rather felt it, but at the moment, Scarlet’s numb mind couldn’t grasp it totally. It was still eluding him… and he wondered if that lack of memory wasn’t some kind of a blessing.
He could only recall Vincent’s words, sounding like an ominous omen in his distraught mind.
Thanks to you, that bastard is useless now. His heart is useless.
But yours will make a fine replacement.
Scarlet looked up into the face of the young woman standing over him; it was obvious in her features that, despite all of her valiant efforts, there was also distress in her beautiful eyes, filled with unshed tears.
It added to his own.
If he had had enough strength in him, he would have wailed his despair; but instead, he could only listen, as the beeping sound picked up in intensity, to the rhythm of his own growing anxiety.
And the despair grew even more as he couldn't even feel his own heart accelerating to his fear.
“Doctor! He's awake!”
Upon seeing Doctor Fawn enter the room, Rhapsody Angel could see that the information was quite superfluous, just by the way the doctor was walking purposefully towards his most unusual patient. Probably, Rhapsody thought, Fawn had been monitoring Paul from afar, so that he would know immediately if there was any change in his condition.
“I’ll be damned,” Fawn muttered under his breath. He first checked on the instruments to which his patient was hooked and made some quick adjustments, before he came to see if there was any change to his wound; he slid open a panel on top of the contraption set across Scarlet’s chest. It only took him a few seconds to make his assessment, before he carefully closed the lid. Rhapsody was watching him with interrogating eyes, wondering, hoping, whether there was any significant improvement. She had not dared move to check over Fawn's shoulder; she lacked the courage, neither was she morbidly curious enough to see the extent of her fiancé’s injuries. She didn't want to see any of it; she just wanted to know how long it would take for him to be all right again.
But the look with which Fawn answered her mute question removed any hope that it would be any time soon. She leaned over to kiss Paul's brow; cold perspiration was covering it. She gently wiped it away with her hands.
“Hang on, darling,” she whispered, trying to render her voice as calm and firm as she could. “You’re back on Cloudbase, and you're in good hands. You'll get through this, you'll see. Like you always do.”
She could see in his eyes that he was afraid – probably more afraid than he had ever been in his life. And she could also see that, despite being grateful for her encouraging words, he somehow doubted they were true.
“Paul.” Fawn stepped forward to enter into Scarlet's line of vision, and leaned over him; there was encouragement in his words too, as he spoke in turn: “Dianne is right. You are amongst friends. We are doing everything in our power to help you with what happened to you. You will pull through. But you have to trust me.” He glanced up at the screen monitoring his patient, and saw the wild readings. He shook his head. “Please, try to keep calm,” he continued, addressing Scarlet. “I know it must be difficult for you, but you have to regain control of yourself. You're not doing yourself any good. It’s a lot to ask of you, but you have to try. It can only help you.”
For a brief moment, Scarlet closed his eyes, and Fawn wondered if his plea had even reached his patient; his doubts only lasted a few seconds as he heard the change in the beeping coming from the control panel. He raised his eyes to read the lines and dots on the screen again, and could see that Scarlet had obviously heard him, and was making an effort to calm himself. Which, considering his situation, was nothing short of heroic – even by his standards.
Fawn heaved another sigh, before returning his complete attention to his patient, who was now opening his eyes again, very tiredly. The doctor could see the drowsiness in the blue eyes which were desperately trying to keep focus on him.
“I’m giving you strong sedatives and painkillers,” Fawn explained in a quiet voice, still trying to keep his patient reassured. He saw the surprise appear in Scarlet’s eyes. “We’re pumping them regularly into your body while we keep monitoring you,” he continued. “We had to find a way to keep you under.” So you wouldn’t feel too much pain, he added inwardly, but he had a feeling that Scarlet already had figured that out, by the way his eyes flickered at Fawn’s words. “Paul, this is actually good news for you… The fact that your retrometabolism is burning away the drugs means that it’s still working as it should. That would also mean that it’s working on your… injury.” He hesitated a few more seconds. “Do you know what happened to you, Paul?” he asked carefully. “Do you know what your condition is?”
He saw Scarlet’s eyes waver again. If he doesn’t know, he might suspect, Fawn reflected. I have to be careful.
“Someone,” he said very slowly, watching his patient’s reactions, “someone operated on you… and took your heart.”
The beeping sounds from the machine behind Fawn increased; he saw the shock reflected in Scarlet’s eyes. He cursed whatever butcher had hacked into his friend, forcing him into this dreadful predicament. He tried to reassure Scarlet. He explained in simple and reassuring words about the machine, and how they had hooked him to it, in order to keep his blood pumping through his body. It was to be a temporary measure, of course. Until they found a suitable solution to help him heal properly. Fawn didn’t know how he actually managed to soothe Scarlet’s fears, while he felt so unsure himself about his own words; he just noticed that the beeping from the monitor had changed again. Perhaps his patient was simply getting tired? He could see in his eyes that he was threatening to fall asleep again.
Not now, mate, he thought inwardly, and he hated himself for even considering depriving his patient of his recuperative and benevolent sleep. I still need to talk to you… Hang on just a few more minutes…
“You have a lot of things going for you, Paul. Your retrometabolism is working – that much we know. The fact that you’ve woken up is a pleasant surprise; it could only be a good omen. It might just take a little more time than we are used to, and I will admit, we just don’t know how much time it’ll take… We just have to be patient this time around. All of us.”
There was a very faint nod from Scarlet’s head as he acknowledged the information. The beeping sound from the monitor was now down to a more normal rate.
“In the meantime, we’re trying to find who did this to you,” Fawn continued. “And why. We don’t have the intention of letting them get away with it. And perhaps we can even locate your…” He stopped himself, realising that he might raise Scarlet’s fears yet again. But the monitor kept beeping steadily. Fawn addressed a glance at Rhapsody, who was still wiping Scarlet’s perspiring brow, gently, very soothingly. He cleared his throat. “Any information you can give us might be helpful. Can you recall anything?”
Scarlet closed his eyes. He was still fighting hard to stay awake. There was a moment where Fawn thought he had fallen back to sleep. He gently called to him: “Paul… do you know a single clue that might help us?”
There was again a brief moment of waiting, and then Scarlet opened his eyes once more; they were filled with dread. There was a second, very weak nod. Fawn held his breath.
“You do remember? What can you tell us?”
“How can he tell us anything?” Rhapsody then replied, distraught. “He can’t speak with that tube down his throat and –” Her voice broke, and she couldn’t continue.
Fawn acknowledged her intervention. She was right, of course. He looked around, searching; his eyes found the notepad hanging from the wall behind him, and he snatched it from its hook. He took the pen from his breast pocket and leaned closer to Scarlet, to slide the pad under his right hand as it rested on the bed, and put the pen between his fingers. Scarlet’s hand was numb, and Fawn gently pressed his fingers around the pen for him to get a better grip on it. He looked up again to Scarlet’s face.
“Try to write whatever you can, Paul,” he said, encouragingly. “I know I’m asking a lot, but whatever clue you can give us might help us catch those bastards. Please, try.”
For long seconds, the pen rested within Scarlet’s numb hand, motionless; then, the fingers slowly and awkwardly closed around it and the tip rose over the paper, unsteadily. With a trembling hand, Scarlet started to write, his usual handwriting barely recognisable within the wobbly characters that slowly appeared on the piece of paper. He wrote two single, short lines, the last characters becoming thin and unstable, as he obviously struggled to finish them. The pen nearly fell from between his fingers and he let his hand rest on the mattress, unable to write more.
Fawn took the piece of paper from the notepad and looked at it closely, trying to comprehend what Scarlet had written on it. He could scarcely make out the words.
“Francis… Vincent?” He looked down to Scarlet to enquire if it was what indeed what was written, but saw that the latter had closed his eyes, tiredly. He showed the paper to Rhapsody, who nodded, confirming his assumption. “Right. I’ve got to show this to Colonel White. Perhaps this will help in the course of the investigation.”
“Go,” Rhapsody said. “I’ll stay with him, Doctor. If you don’t mind.”
“Of course not,” Fawn replied. “But… only a few minutes. You’ll have to get some rest too, you know.”
“I’ll stay until you come back,” she answered.
Fawn nodded, although he knew that her intention was to stay far longer than that. He didn’t argue for the time being. With murmured thanks, he shot out of the ward.
Rhapsody leaned forward to kiss her fiancé’s forehead again. “I will stay here as long as needed,” she whispered close to his ear. “I’m not planning to go anywhere.”
She knew Scarlet couldn’t hear her anymore. He was, again, deeply unconscious.
“We found the information in the WAAF files,” Colonel White was saying over the SSC onboard videophone, addressing both Captain Blue and Lieutenant Green, as their vehicle left London that night and travelled North. The Spectrum commander had quickly given them instructions to follow that direction, before briefing them on Spectrum’s new discoveries. “Francis Vincent Jr. He enlisted in the British Militarist Army towards the end of the Regime. Explosives expert, turned bomb-maker for various mercenary and terrorist groups. He supplied high-quality bombs and explosive devices to whoever was prepared to pay his high prices. His creations were very devious, and virtually undetectable. They cost many lives over the years, and he’s been on the WAAF Special Forces’ most wanted list for nearly fifteen years. That would explain why Scarlet knew him. He must have seen his dossier while in the Special Forces. Maybe even went after him himself.”
“I’ve got it, sir,” Lieutenant Green said, consulting the onboard computer. “Vincent was caught about ten years ago, but he got a reduced sentence because the authorities were unable to link him to most of the terrorist acts he was suspected to have been a part of…” He quickly read a few lines in silence. “Vincent was released from prison a few months back. It says here that it was on compassionate grounds, because he had a heart condition that was threatening his life. If he stayed in prison, he wasn’t expected to last the year.”
“Apparently, his condition didn’t stop him from renewing his criminal activities,” Blue remarked sourly. He was driving the car, looking straight ahead on the dark road with an hardened expression on his face. “How much do you want to bet Ellsworth commissioned him to build a bomb for the attack against the Prime Minister?”
“Very likely,” White confirmed. “Ellsworth was part of the Secret Service Security team, who was to attend the security meeting with the Prime Minister at the Spectrum Security Building in London. As a Mysteron agent, Ellsworth knew he could never expect to enter the building. Our Mysteron detectors would have spotted him right away.”
“But an undetectable bomb, like Vincent knows how to make, could have got through,” Blue continued. “Ellsworth would not even have needed to be in the building on the day it was to go off. For example, he could have attracted our attention to himself, elsewhere, while his bomb –”
“… Would have done the Mysterons’ job for him,” Green finished.
Blue nodded. “That would have been an attack worthy of the Mysterons’ evil planning,” he added.
“Quite right,” Colonel White conceded. “But we don’t know for sure if Ellsworth took delivery of that bomb. It looks doubtful, as Captain Scarlet might have intervened before the deal between Ellsworth and Vincent was done, but since there was no trace of any explosive device in that house you searched, I took no chances and advised Commander Terence to evacuate the Security Building, while his men and Captain Grey’s make a thorough search of the premises.”
“Of course, sir,” Blue said with a nod. “And where are the lieutenant and I going?”
“On his release from prison,” White explained, “Francis Vincent was left in the custody of his father, who shares the same name. Since then, Frank Jr. has disappeared from public view. You are going to his father’s house.”
“Francis Vincent Sr.,” Green read from his screen. “Retired physician and surgeon…” He stopped suddenly, and straightened up on his seat. “Heart specialist?” he said with a puzzled expression on his dark face.
“According to HIS file, he was one of the best in the field, yes,” White confirmed. “Doctor Fawn told me he has heard of the man. Vincent Sr. retired many years ago. His activities since his retirement are unknown, but there have been rumours that he actually performed illegal surgical procedures for needy people – and sometimes the criminal underground. No proof has been found of that, though.”
“You think HE performed that surgery on Captain Scarlet to remove his heart, sir?” Blue asked with obvious surprise in his voice.
“We don’t know anything for sure,” White replied. “But he does seem a likely candidate. We just don’t know why, yet.”
“It could be his name that Captain Scarlet wrote,” Green reflected.
“Perhaps. But it seems unlikely. Captain Scarlet would KNOW the son, because of his infamous reputation – but I doubt he would know the father.”
Blue and Green exchanged a quick glance, but White, through the videophone, didn’t seem to notice, as he continued to give his orders: “Your mission has a double purpose. You will try to locate both Vincents. I want to know if Frank Vincent Jr. has successfully delivered a bomb to Ellsworth, as we suspect he was probably hired to build one for him.”
“S.I.G.,” Blue answered coolly.
“And,” White continued, you will need to find out if Frank Vincent Sr. was indeed involved with what happened to Captain Scarlet – and why.”
“We will find out what we can, sir,” Blue promised. Green turned to him, and saw his features becoming even harder than before.
“Of course. You have the address, and the directions to that house. Just be careful. Remember what happened to Captain Scarlet. I don’t want either of you to suffer the same fate. As we all know, it is quite possible that Scarlet will survive and make a complete recovery. You, unfortunately, would not.” White made a short pause. “Good luck, gentlemen.”
“Thank you, sir,” both men answered, before Lieutenant Green closed the channel. For a few short seconds, they both stayed silent, staring at the dark road straight ahead.
“It is also quite possible,” Blue murmured sullenly, “that he would not heal completely.”
“Captain Scarlet, sir?” Green said with a raised brow. He seemed perplexed. “But so far, he’s recovered from every injury he’s ever had.”
“So far,” Blue repeated relentlessly. “This is different, however.”
“The colonel did seem to believe so.”
Blue snorted. “When it comes to hiding what’s on his mind, the colonel is an expert, Lieutenant. You know that as well as I do. I suspect he’s not telling us everything we should know about Scarlet.”
“You think so?” There was some obvious concern, and disappointment as well, in Green’s voice.
“Damn it, the whole heart was missing! You saw the wound, Lieutenant.”
“I did. It is not a sight I’m likely to forget.” Green shivered. The young man sounded and looked dazed at the same time. “It could have been me,” he said in a near murmur.
“What?” Blue asked with a frown.
“It could have been me. If I had been the one to follow Ellsworth – I would have suffered that fate, instead of Captain Scarlet.” Blue kept silent, and Green felt himself flushing with some embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Captain. That’s so thoughtless of me. I know he’s your friend, and –”
“That’s all right, Lieutenant.” Blue instantly regretted the rashness of his previous words. He addressed an encouraging if weak smile to Green. “We can’t help thinking like that, whenever Scarlet steps forward to take the brunt of whatever comes our way. He’s always willing to put his life on the line, if it means saving another’s. He’s always been like that. Even when he wasn’t indestructible.”
“I sure hope his indestructibility will hold this time too,” Green said grimly.
Obviously, Blue reflected, Green was as worried as he was himself. He would never forget either the empty hole in Scarlet’s chest, where his heart was supposed to be. Not for as long as he lived.
“You are right, Lieutenant,” he said, forcing his voice to regain his usual, calmer tone. “Scarlet will make it this time. Like he always does.”
“Yeah,” Green said in a murmur, lowering his eyes. “If you say so, Captain.”
Let’s just hope so, Blue added to himself. He wasn’t willing to voice any more of his underlying doubts and concerns.
For now, he had to concentrate on his mission ahead – and on catching the bastards who had hurt his best friend.
He just didn’t know exactly how he would react when he came face to face with them.
“Stop that! You are going to kill him!”
The voice of the old man echoed through Captain Scarlet’s dazed mind; the vicious beating from Frank Vincent had left him so very weak, and in such terrible pain, but he was still conscious – if only barely. His head was heavy, from the many blows it had received, and he could feel the blood smearing the side of his face. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t think straight; but he could hear and see what was going on around him.
His vision half-obscured by a deep, red and grey mist, he could see the old man, who had not participated in the beating, suddenly stepping forward to put an end to it; he caught Vincent’s wrist with his hand, and stopped the club from coming down again to hit the defenceless man lying on the floor. “That is enough, Frank!” the old man said, fixing him intently with his eyes. “You don’t need to do that.”
“That’s all right, Dad.” Vincent’s voice had a rasping edge to it, but also a distinct tone of satisfaction. Obviously, he had been enjoying the treatment he had given his victim. Although he was breathing very hard, he didn’t seem as sick now as he had appeared previously.
Of course… It was all an act, earlier… He wanted to make believe he was in a worse condition than he really was… Lulling his potential victims into a false sense of safety…
Vincent freed himself from his father’s hold and threw his club away; it echoed through the room as it hit the floor. “These Spectrum officers are tough. They can take it.”
“Don’t you think you went a little overboard?” his father protested.
“Not in the least. What difference does it make to him anyway? As long as he is still alive… for now.” Vincent pointed to Scarlet. “Ian, help me put him on the table.”
His father opened his eyes wide with horror and surprise, as he watched the two younger men leaning over the apparently unconscious officer. Unable to defend himself, Scarlet felt their hands picking him up from the floor and carrying him over a short distance. Frank Vincent was puffing and gasping, apparently under some amount of strain, and obviously, Ian had to do most of the work.
They put their load onto a padded table; Scarlet groaned weakly, and that attracted Vincent’s attention. Breathing hard after the effort he had just made, Vincent leaned over the defenceless man and lifted one eyelid to look into the dilated pupil. For a brief instant, Scarlet was able to clearly see his cold features, haloed by a hazy mist.
“He’s alive, all right,” Vincent declared, letting go of the eyelid and checking the pulse on Scarlet’s neck. “But mostly out of it. Still, let’s not take any chances with him. Tie him up, Ian. Just in case…”
Scarlet felt straps being secured tightly around his wrists and ankles. He was barely able to think, let alone move and defend himself. But he still could hear everything that was said around him – and none of it was particularly reassuring.
“Wait a minute!” Vincent’s father said, in protest. “You’re not expecting me to operate on him?”
“We have no other choice, Dad. Time is running out, you know that. We can’t afford to be choosy anymore.”
“That wasn’t what we had originally planned!” his father protested anew. “We were supposed to use that man, the one who contacted you… and asked you to make that bomb for him. He was an evil man… Planning to kill people.”
“And that’s supposed to have made it better if we had used him instead?” Frank asked mockingly.
“We would have done the world a favour by getting rid of such a man. And dying would have been the best thing he could do for the world. But Frank… that Spectrum officer –”
“… Came into the house, and killed Ellsworth,” Frank cut in suddenly. “And very nearly sent our plans down the drain. Come on, Dad! That Spectrum officer was about to arrest me – and you, for harbouring two criminals in your clinic… Your underground and illegal clinic, I might add. Which makes you a criminal too!”
“I’m helping people, Frank… I’m not a criminal.”
“And do you really think he would have believed or understood our – your motivation?” Frank shook his head. “He killed Ellsworth, and we can’t find another replacement in time. He will have to take his place.”
“No,” his father answered.
“Dad, if you don’t do it NOW, it’ll be too late soon! He’s probably brain-damaged anyway.”
“Because you hit him over the head with that club!”
Frank Vincent walked briskly to his father. “If you really want to help, you will have to act quickly. Now or never. We can’t wait.” He gestured towards Scarlet. “Besides, it’s too late. Even if he survives, he’s a threat to us all. Me… you… and Ian. You don’t want poor Ian to end up in prison, do you? He’ll have us arrested for attempted murder. It’s a question of survival now. For all of us.”
“What are you asking me to do?” the older man asked in a murmur.
“You will have to do your stuff.” Frank put a scalpel into his father’s hand. “You are the surgeon. Do it. Operate on him right now and take his heart.”
“You don’t know what you’re asking, Frank.”
“I’m fully aware what I’m asking, Dad. You’re the one who doesn’t seem to realise that we don’t have any choice anymore. This Spectrum officer’s friends might not be very far away. They might arrive any minute now. And when they find him here – with us – we’re all finished. So we’d better take what we need and get away quickly, before they stop us. We won’t be able to set a trap for another… donor. Not in time, anyway,” he added, sourly, “and you know that.” He closed his father’s fingers around the handle of the scalpel. “You have to do it, Dad. There’s too much at stake now.”
“Damn you…” Doctor Vincent turned away from his son and walked towards the table where lay the defenceless Spectrum officer. At this point, Captain Scarlet hadn’t had enough recovery time to try to free himself. His mind was still in too much of a haze to permit him to speak, or move, but not so much as not to understand what the consequences of this conversation between father and son actually implied for him.
His bleary eyes barely able to focus behind his drooping eyelids, he could see the devastated expression of the old man standing over him, trying hard to make up his mind. Slowly, the doctor’s free hand reached for the spotlight hanging over the padded table, and pressed a button to power it up. The blade of the scalpel flashed in his other hand, and Doctor Vincent looked down at his unwilling patient.
For a very brief instant, hope flared in Scarlet, as the old man leaned over him and lifted one of his eyelids to look into his eye, much like Frank Vincent had done earlier. He wondered if the old man had noticed the slight but noticeable reaction of his pupil under the strong beam of light, and the mute pleading that Scarlet was desperately trying to convey with his eyes. He tried to speak, but his brain refused to let him.
He was desperately trying not to lose consciousness.
“I’m sorry,” Doctor Vincent said reluctantly, in a barely audible whisper. “But I have no choice. He is my son… and I love him.”
Despair completely filled Scarlet’s heart.
“Prepare the anaesthetics,” the doctor continued, standing straight. “He doesn’t have to suffer more than he already has.” His features became at the same time hard and determined, as he took his final decision. “And get the cool-bag ready.”
The deep mist in Scarlet’s mind became much thicker and despite all of his best efforts to hang on to whatever consciousness he still might have, he finally lost his battle, and fell into complete oblivion.
It was a series of bleeping sounds that seemed to draw Captain Scarlet out of the dark. Disoriented, on the verge of panicking, he looked around, trying to get his bearings. He was still lying on his back, the upper part of his body encased in that hard metallic shell.
He remembered. He was in sickbay, on Cloudbase.
A dream, he thought. It was only a dream…
No… he realised bitterly. Flashback. A nightmarish flashback…
At last, they have come back to him. The very last memories he had of what had happened to him before…
… Before he woke up here.
He closed his eyes. Have to calm down, he told himself, as his still rather foggy mind realised that all those annoying beeping sounds around him were coming from those machines to which he was connected, monitoring his condition, and that they were caused by his own anxiety about his situation.
That’s when he heard it. Again. Her voice.
Calling to him through the mist.
“Paul? Can you hear me?”
Rhapsody had watched with growing concern as the screens monitoring Scarlet’s vital signs had suddenly gone crazy, before her own eyes, reaching a crescendo of such intensity that for a moment, she had imagined the worst would happen. But the two nurses left to care for Scarlet had called for Doctor Fawn, while making sure, in the meantime, that their patient’s condition was not deteriorating. Fawn had not yet arrived when Scarlet had finally awakened, panic-stricken, and looking around with terrified eyes.
The patient was only having a nightmare, the nurses had deduced.
Rhapsody considered that to be a rather coldly clinical conclusion. In view of his recent horrifying experience, she imagined that any nightmare he might have had would not be any ordinary dream.
Paul had quickly quietened down, however, and that was already reassuring; he had closed his eyes and had not noticed her presence this time around, so with the intention of comforting him, to show him that she was still there, supporting him in this horrendous ordeal, she had stepped forward, to stand next to him, and softly called his name.
At the sound of her voice, Scarlet opened his tired eyes once again. For a moment, he seemed to search for her, then he found her. A frown appeared on his brow as he looked up to her.
She didn’t get the impression he was very pleased to see her there.
“Are you all right, darling?” she whispered, stroking his brow.
He weakly shook his head. Stupid question, she inwardly admonished herself, angry for even having thought of asking it. How could she be so stupid? She didn’t even know how to make amends for her blunder now. All she could do was to stroke his sweat-soaked hair and lean over him to kiss his brow. “I’m sorry, Paul… Forget I asked. I know you’ll be all right soon…”
She then noticed that his right hand was moving; for a second, she wondered what he wanted to do…
Of course… he’s looking for the pen and pad Edward gave him before!
They were still on the bed, but slightly out of reach.
“Wait, darling… I’ll get them for you…. There….” Carefully, Rhapsody pushed them under his searching hand. She saw his fingers struggle as before, to close around the pen and use it again on the pad she had positioned for him. The words were drawn even more shakily than before, but Rhapsody, who watched as they appeared, had no trouble recognising the two single words that Scarlet wrote – this time exclusively for her:
At first she drew back, feeling her heart missing a beat at the tingling pain of his obvious rejection; then, realising that his reason for not wanting to have her around was that he couldn’t bear the thought of her seeing him in such a state, she shook her head vehemently, and furrowed her brow in turn.
She was angry again, but this time, at him, for wanting to turn her away.
“No way, you dimwit,” she answered sternly. “I love you, no matter what might happen to you. You’re forever risking life and limb to save this planet; you’ve always come back from it, unscathed. Obviously, this time will take just a little more time than usual, just as Edward said. So you need us to stand by you, just as you’ve stood by us so many times. If you think I’m going to leave you all alone at a time like this, you’d better think again!” She leaned over him once more, closing her eyes as she did so, and pressed her brow to his. “I am not going away. I’ll be here, waiting for you to get better, whether you like it or not.”
One single tear trickled from her moist eyelash and then went running down Scarlet’s cheek. Despite all his effort to keep his eyes open in order to look at her, while he was quite unable to say even one word to her, whatever thoughts were in his mind, Rhapsody could see he was losing that battle as well. Giving in to the painkillers, his eyes fluttered tiredly, and he dropped back into a deep sleep – or unconsciousness, she couldn’t tell for certain.
Now knowing that he would not see or feel any of her distress, the young woman permitted her long-restrained tears to silently and freely flow from her eyes.
“He told me to leave him alone.”
Doctor Fawn had just arrived a few minutes before and had come briefly into the room to check on Scarlet, before asking Rhapsody to join him. He was waiting in the observation room, from where he could watch the bed where Captain Scarlet was resting. Through the large bay window, he was watching the information displayed on the screen embedded in the wall just over the patient’s bed. He was taking notes when Rhapsody left her fiancé’s bedside to finally join him. He raised a brow at her words.
“He wrote it on the pad you left him,” she explained.
Fawn nodded and returned to his notes. “Knowing him, I’m not surprised at all.”
“He fell asleep again immediately afterwards. At least, I think he fell asleep. Or perhaps he lost consciousness?”
“He regained consciousness, then?” Fawn asked.
She nodded. “Very briefly. A few minutes.” Her voice grew weary. “He had a nightmare. Maybe that woke him up? He’d been… unconscious… since you went to show that note to Colonel White.”
“I know,” Fawn answered.
“It was the first time he regained consciousness since then.”
“Quite frankly, Rhapsody, I was surprised that he woke up that first time around. And even more this time. I fully expected him to stay in a coma – at least for the duration of the healing process. He doesn’t usually wake up, when he’s this seriously wounded. He’s asleep, not unconscious,” he confirmed, answering her earlier question. “He’s usually sleeping when he recovers. I call it the ‘retrometabolic sleep’.”
“You think it’s a good sign, then?” Rhapsody asked hopefully. “That he sleeps?”
The doctor didn’t want to commit himself with too affirmative an answer. “It is certainly not bad, anyway.”
“You are not sure, then.”
Fawn sighed. “Right now? No. I’m not sure of anything. I can only hope and wait to see.”
“Isn’t there something more we can do for him?”
Fawn’s brow furrowed deeply; to say that he hadn’t been expecting this question would have been a lie; it was just a matter of time before Rhapsody would ask it. In fact, it was quite similar to Colonel White’s question some hours earlier.
Fawn could only provide the same answer.
“We’re doing all we can right now, Dianne,” he said patiently. “But at the moment, it’s really up to him.”
“But can’t you help him speed up the healing process?” she asked.
“It’s what I normally do, Dianne. But his present situation is highly unusual. Even for him.”
“There must be something that can be done…” Rhapsody muttered again. “That bulky contraption you have him hooked up to…”
“The heart-lung machine? I know it looks like a medieval engine of torture, but right now, it’s what’s keeping him alive. It oxygenates his blood, then, just like a normal heart would do, pumps it back into his body.”
“So it takes over all the functions of his heart…”
“And provides assistance to his lungs – so they won’t fail him. It helps him breathe more easily.”
“What about a real transplant?” Rhapsody suggested. “Instead of putting him into this… machine… why not transplant a real heart into his chest, to replace the one that was stolen?”
Fawn slowly shook his head. He put his pad on top of his desk, and walked across to stand directly in front of the large bay window. “Don’t you think I haven’t thought of this already?” he asked Rhapsody in a sour voice.
“Then why don’t you do it?” she nearly snapped at him.
“Dianne, there’s a lot more to consider than you seem to imagine. It’s not that easy. Captain Scarlet… Paul… is in a unique situation. There’s no-one like him on the surface of this planet.”
“You think I don’t know that?!”
Hearing the anger in her voice, Fawn turned to face her. “You don’t realise the implications. Think about it a minute. There’s a huge waiting list for heart transplants. And there’s not nearly enough hearts to satisfy demand – even if, with the medical miracles of today, we’re actually able to adapt a given heart to almost anybody, with the minimum risks of rejection, everywhere around the world, every minute, someone on that list dies, because a suitable heart could not be found for that person. This is an ethical question: for all I know, your fiancé could very well heal himself without need of a transplant. So if I give him a new heart, I might be condemning someone, someone in desperate need, to certain death. And that would have been for nothing.”
“Doctor –” Rhapsody tried hesitantly.
“And even if I put medical ethics aside,” Fawn continued, interrupting her suddenly. “I admit I’m very tempted, Dianne, Paul deserves every chance we can give him, considering all he risks for us, the many times he’s put his life on the line for the inhabitants of this planet. I don’t know if his unique metabolism will accept a new heart, and will actually assimilate it into his body. Maybe it will, but maybe it will get rejected – like a foreign body. That’s the same reason why I’m not even considering an electronic heart… There is so much we don’t know yet about Captain Scarlet’s physiology, how it actually works…”
There was obvious regret in Fawn’s voice, as he turned once more to face the bay window and stare at his patient on the other side. For a moment, Rhapsody gazed at his back, without moving, considering what he had just told her. If his words had filled her with dread, and if they conveyed little hope for what could be done for Paul, she could certainly not accuse him of not trying. He simply felt almost as helpless as she did – and ineffective in his abilities to help a friend.
She approached, and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I know you are trying, Edward,” she said, the words almost catching in her throat. “I’m sorry. I was unfair to you.”
His hand rose and covered hers. “I’ll do my very best to help him, Dianne,” he promised, turning to look at her. “I don’t know how, but I will. We just need to wait, for the time being.” He faced the window again. “Wait and watch… and hope that his condition is even more miraculous than we actually think it is.”
Rhapsody lowered her head, and rested it against the doctor’s shoulder. He held her close to him, reassuringly.
“Amen to that,” he heard her say in a choking voice.
When they arrived at the address given to them as Doctor Francis Vincent’s home, Captain Blue and Lieutenant Green could see it was the house of someone who liked living a very comfortable and private life; it was set back from the road, almost hidden behind a dense copse of trees, and there was no trace of nearby neighbours. Fortunately, there were no surrounding walls, and no gates to obstruct access, and Blue drove the SSC up the long drive leading to the house. There were quite a few lights on, despite the fact that they were well into the middle of the night. They were absolutely certain that they were indeed at the right place and that something must be going on, right at this moment.
Captain Blue had neither the time, nor the inclination, to be subtle about it. He knocked only once on the door, but didn’t even wait more than ten seconds for someone to come and open it, before bringing it down with a strong shove of his shoulder. Lieutenant Green didn’t even try to protest that maybe it would have been better to wait just a little longer, to give time to whoever was in the house to actually come; he doubted his companion would even listen to him, seeing the determined and hard expression on his face. Green grimaced upon hearing the loud creak the door made as it nearly broke from its hinges. If someone had not heard the knock, certainly that noise would have alerted them to the Spectrum officers’ presence. Not that they would not have already noticed the bright red car that had driven up the driveway a few minutes ago, anyway…
Both officers entered, guns in hand, as soon as the door opened; they stopped a few paces into the hall. Just at the bottom of the large marble stair leading to the second storey of the spacious house, there was the body of an old man, lying still in a very awkward position. Blue gestured towards it, and Green carefully approached the body and crouched to examine it, while his senior officer was making a quick survey of the hall’s immediate surroundings. When he returned to Green, the latter was getting back to his feet, shaking his head.
“He’s dead,” he announced.
Blue nodded, giving a quick glance at the dead man’s face. He recognised it from the picture provided earlier during their briefing by Colonel White in the SSC. “Doctor Frank Vincent, I presume,” he muttered under his breath. He looked up the stairs. “Probably fell down those stairs and killed himself. How long has he been dead, do you think?”
“I’m no expert, sir… Maybe a few hours, judging by the body temperature?”
Blue nodded again; if the body had been left there for that long, then there was nobody else in the house who had bothered to do anything about it. It confirmed his first assumption that the house was apparently empty. He re-holstered his gun and crouched by the body to examine it a little more closely.
An angry roar coming from upstairs startled him, and he shot back to his feet, next to Green. Rushing down the stairs four at a time, a brute of a man was coming straight at them, his eyes crazy and his hands ready to grab them. Green made a step backwards, impressed by the strange appearance, and Blue reached for his gun. The man leapt the reminder of the steps and literally pounced at the American officer, hitting him with all of his weight in midsection and bringing him down.
“LEAVE HIM ALONE!” he yelled, his hands searching for Blue’s throat. “I won’t let you hurt the doctor! I will kill you!”
“Captain!” Green shouted, waving his gun, all the while trying to get a good aim at the seemingly possessed man.
“Don’t shoot him!” Blue ordered forcefully. He wanted answers, and whoever his attacker was, if he was the only living soul in this house, he would provide those answers.
“Kill you, I will kill you!” the man repeated, fighting like a madman.
“Like Hell you will!” Green yelled. And with a violent kick, he shoved the brute away from Blue. The latter, free from his attacker’s hands, quickly got to his feet.
“Stop right there!” he shouted to the man who was starting to come back at them. “We don’t want to hurt you! We want to know what happened!”
“NO!” the man yelled back. “You’re here because of your friend! I won’t let you hurt the doctor! He did nothing wrong!”
With a renewed roar, he charged forward, but this time, Blue was ready for him and easily evaded his new attack, and the man’s fist only brushed his face. Grunting, Blue punched the man’s stomach with all his strength and weight; the brute gasped, as air was expelled forcefully from his lungs, but he didn’t fall.
Blue hit him three consecutive times in the belly, hoping to wear him down; as he felt him starting to waver on his feet, he landed a series of punches on the jaw, which finally drove the man to his knees; Blue finally finished him off properly with a kick under the chin. Moaning, the brute fell on his back, spread-eagled, at his vanquisher’s feet.
“I don’t believe it! He’s still conscious!” a stunned Green exclaimed, looking at the man, and then at the nearly breathless Blue.
“Good!” Blue gasped. “He’ll be able to talk to us, then. Help me get him to a seat, Lieutenant!”
Both of them took the barely conscious brute by an arm and pulled him up to his feet, dragging him from the hall to the nearby living room. They tossed him onto the sofa, none too gently. By this point, the man was slowly starting to regain his bearings.
“Do you think there’s someone else beside him in this house?” Green asked. He was breathing hard; the man they had carried was rather heavy. Blue considered his question.
“You are right. We had better make sure. Go and check the house over, Lieutenant. I’ll stay here with our… host.”
Green did catch the rather heavy tone in Blue’s voice and he glanced at him with some suspicion; but he was unable to read on his expressionless face any of the emotions he just knew were racing through his superior’s mind. He was Captain Scarlet’s best friend and partner, after all. Captain Blue was, however, a dedicated officer; he would certainly not do anything injudicious – especially not during a mission.
“S.I.G. sir,” Green answered. “I’ll keep in contact with you and will tell you if I find anything.” Blue just answered with a brief nod, and Green quickly left the living room.
The brute, in the meantime, had almost recovered, and suddenly made a move to spring out of the sofa; he came nose to barrel against Blue’s gun.
“Not so fast, handsome, you’re not going anywhere!” the American captain growled. “I have questions to ask you.”
The man swallowed hard. “You will kill me, no matter what…” he whispered.
“If you stay quiet and collaborate… there’s no reason for me to kill you.”
“No, I know you’ll kill me. I just know it. You want to avenge your friend. Don’t you?” The man lowered his eyes. “You already killed him, didn’t you?”
“Who?” Blue asked with a frown.
“Doctor Vincent. You killed him.”
“What is your name?” Blue asked.
“Ian… My name is Ian.” He didn’t dare look up to Blue. “Ian McPhee.”
“Ian. The doctor was already dead when we arrived,” Blue answered. “We didn’t kill him.”
“You didn’t?” Ian whispered.
“No. We found him lying at the bottom of the stairs. We’d just discovered he was dead when you attacked us.”
“Already dead?” murmured Ian, his eyes becoming vague. “Then… he killed him, then. I – I tried to stop him from leaving…”
“I – I saw him falling down the stairs,” Ian said, without answering. “He… he was running after – I tried to stop him…”
“Ian,” Blue said, not understanding what the man was trying to say. “Who did you try to stop? The doctor? You tried to stop him from falling down the stairs?”
Ian shook his head, but didn’t say a word. Blue’s frown deepened. “Are you sure that you didn’t – ”
“Kill him?” Ian interrupted. “No! No, I couldn’t! I could never hurt the doctor. He was kind to me. Always has been. Took me in when nobody wanted me, he did. Gave me a roof over my head and… jobs to do around the house. He was a good man, the doctor.”
“A good man who killed and hacked up my friend?” Blue replied, his tone becoming hard.
Ian whimpered and closed his eyes. At this point, Blue had already figured out that the man wasn’t that bright; he was a simple-minded brute, on whom Doctor Vincent had probably taken pity, and had taken under his wing. However, he seemed to know a little more of what had happened to Scarlet, and that was probably because he played some part in it – whatever it was. That thought was irritating enough for Blue, and that eliminated any thought of compassion he might have for the man.
“Ian, I told you I wanted answers. You will tell me exactly what the doctor did to my friend. Why did he take his heart? What did he do with it?” But as Ian remained silent, Blue became more insistent. He pulled back the hammer of his gun, his eyes growing cold. “You had better come up with some satisfying answers quickly!”
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” Ian pleaded, raising his hands. “I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you what you want to know! Just don’t kill me!”
“WELL?!” Blue almost shouted. “Tell me!”
“The doctor – he didn’t want to… hurt your friend. He didn’t…”
“He did anyway!”
“He didn’t have a choice! When the bad guy was killed, when your friend shot him… there was no other choice! Your friend… your friend had to do. The doctor needed him then. There was no-one else anymore…”
“No-one else for what?”
“It was all for his son.” Ian’s tone had grown angry all of a sudden. He hit his own thigh with his closed fist. “It was all his son’s fault.”
“His son? Frank Vincent Jr.?”
Ian nodded vigorously, but didn’t raise his head to look Blue in the eyes. He was snivelling now, and his voice was shaking. “The doctor was a good man. But his son… his son, he’s the bad man. He’s evil. As evil as you can get! I knew him. I knew he would cause trouble. I told the doctor, but he wanted to help his son.”
“He insisted the doctor took your friend. He forced him to do it. He didn’t want to wait any longer. He said he couldn’t wait. It had to be your friend.”
“Had to be?” Blue murmured, his brow furrowing. “Ian, what kind of hold did Frank Vincent Jr. have on his father, to force him to do what he did?”
“The doctor – he loved his son,” Ian said, sniffing. “He knew he was evil but… he couldn’t let him die, could he? He needed your friend… to save his son’s life.”
Suddenly, the horrible truth hit Blue right in the face; all the clues were there. He just had not seen them until this very moment.
“Oh no,” he muttered. He felt his legs wavering suddenly, and his arm, holding the gun, sank down; but Ian was now sobbing so hard that he had not noticed he wasn’t threatened by the Spectrum officer’s weapon anymore.
“The doctor needed your friend’s heart,” Ian pursued, as Blue found the need to sit down on the armchair behind him, “so he could give it to his son…”
“This is truly phenomenal.”
Doctor Frank Vincent was looking with astonishment at the results displayed on the monitor embedded in the wall. His patient was now seated on the side of his bed, checking himself, flexing his muscles, breathing deeply. The top of his pyjamas was open, and the physician could see that the long scar upon his chest was now reduced to a thin rosy line, where, only a few hours ago when he had first removed the dressing, it was still encrusted with dried blood.
Never in all of his career as a doctor had Frank Vincent Sr. seen anything like this. His son looked so much better than he had been for years. He looked so much younger. It was like a miracle.
And considering the conditions that had brought this miracle to occur, he wasn’t that sure that his son deserved it.
“This is impossible,” the perplexed Doctor Vincent said. “The procedure was done yesterday. Only hours ago. After that, you should be in bed for days, even weeks. Weak as a kitten.” He pressed his stethoscope to his patient’s chest. The new transplanted heart was beating steadily. “And yet, here you are, soon to be on your feet... and nearly healed.” He stood up and took a step back, looking at his son with curiosity. “Apparently, even that scar will be gone in a very short time.” He sounded almost as if he could not believe his eyes.
“You told me I would always have one,” his son remarked, looking down at his chest. “Looks like you were wrong.”
“I can’t explain this.” Shaking his head, Doctor Vincent walked back to his son and took his arm, pulling the pyjama sleeve up to show him the bare skin. “Look. What do you see?”
“Nothing,” Frank Vincent Jr. answered, looking at his arm, and then at his father.
“That’s what I mean,” the excited physician replied. “There’s nothing. No needle marks. No I.V. marks. Everything is healed. It’s like there never were any punctures in your skin.” He let go of his son’s arm, and straightened up. “It can’t be. This is not normal, Frank… You’re making the most extraordinary recovery I’ve ever seen in my life. You seem –”
“… In perfect health?” Frank looked at his arm, musingly, and then started chuckling. “I know. I’ve never EVER felt better.” He breathed deeply, obviously revelling in his new-found health. “It’s like my whole body’s been cleansed… by I don’t know what miracle.” He winked at his father. “You sure you didn’t do anything else except graft this new heart into my chest, Dad?”
Doctor Vincent shook his head. “And what would have I done exactly?” he asked with a frown. “I’m not a miracle worker, son. I’m a simple surgeon.”
“You’re too modest. You’re a damned good surgeon. Or you would never have had the kind of practice you had.”
“And what did it give me?” Frank Vincent Sr. asked. “Okay, I had a good life… A good reputation… I had success and I made a lot of money…”
“You’re able to live a comfortable life today.”
Doctor Vincent scoffed. “You know as well as I do that it’s only make-believe, Frank. When I was forced out of practice, because some bureaucratic idiots thought I was too old to hold a scalpel, I had to find another way to make a living… All the while, pursuing my work in helping my fellow man.” He pushed his fists into his vest and drew a deep sigh. “My… underground clinic… helped provide the money that still permits me to live like this up to this day,” he added, looking around at the walls surrounding him. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford this house, without it.”
“Well, you did prove that you still were able to hold a scalpel, contrary to what those imbeciles at the hospital believed,” Frank remarked.
“Not that they would know anything about it,” Doctor Vincent murmured. “Still, this marvellous phenomenon is not due to my work. I wish I knew how it could have occurred…”
“I’ve been feeling this good since you gave me this heart,” Frank remarked, thoughtfully. “Reckon it could be because of it? Of this particular heart?”
“How could it be? I mean… It didn’t look any different from any heart I have ever seen…And believe me, I have seen quite a lot.”
“How about the… donor?”
There was but the merest of smiles on Frank’s thin lips as he looked up at his father and asked the question; Doctor Vincent stood there, staring his son straight in the eyes. He was the one who lowered his eyes, before turning away.
“The donor looked normal enough,” he answered with a neutral voice. “He was a perfectly fit human being. Obviously, in very good health at the moment of his death.”
“You mean, at the moment you removed his heart from his chest,” Frank replied. “He was still alive when you did that, wasn’t he, Dad?”
“Damn you… don’t remind me of what I had to do in order to keep you alive,” Doctor Vincent shot back, turning on his heel to face his son again. “His heart was beating, of course… but I’m not even sure his brain functions had ceased – like you implied.”
“I thought I had made sure of that when I had bashed him over the head with that club,” Frank said pensively, much to his father’s dismay. “Obviously he was even tougher than I thought…”
“That’s a rather clinical way of seeing the situation!”
“Don’t play the hypocrite, Dad! YOURS was the hand that killed him after all, not mine!”
“Of all the ungrateful…” Doctor Vincent nearly choked. He could feel his blood pressure rising. “You have some gall, speaking to me that way. After I sacrificed so much for you! For instance, my clinic has been compromised because of you. I will never be able to continue working there now!”
“I’m sorry, Dad. I realise it was all my fault. I’ll try to find a way to repay you about the clinic, I promise.”
Doctor Vincent frowned. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Frank. You know how much trouble it brought you already. I’ve got more than enough money to hold on for quite a few years yet. That’s not what preoccupies me the most.”
“You mean – you’re still worrying about what happened yesterday,” Frank remarked quietly. “Can the authorities – can Spectrum – trace the clinic back to you?”
His father hesitated and shook his head. “I was practicing there under an assumed name,” he answered. “Nobody can trace it back to me.”
“Very thoughtful of you. How about your patients?”
“The only thing they would be able to give the police would be my description. And let’s face it, that isn’t much for them to go on. As far as it goes, I’m a standard-looking old man.”
“So what exactly are you worrying about?”
“Do I have to spell it out for you?” his father growled. “My clinic is not the only thing I compromised in this affair. All my convictions… my conscience…”
“You regret having killed that man.”
“Of course, I do! What do you think, I’m a doctor! My job is to save lives – not take them!”
“I don’t regret that he’s dead,” Frank replied coldly. “He was a threat to us. Anyway, we needed a replacement for Ellsworth. Do you regret having saved my life, Dad?”
“You are my son,” Doctor Vincent said, shaking his head. “Without that heart transplant, you would have died. I couldn’t leave you to die. No matter… what you might have done in the past. Whatever…‘contacts’ you might keep with some… evil people.”
“Evil people?” Frank repeated, raising an eyebrow. “And what does keeping in with these people make me, Dad?”
“You were misguided…” his father started.
“Misguided?” Frank scoffed. “Remember what I did in the past, Dad? You do know what I did, for those ‘evil people’, to make a living?” His eyes flashed. “I’m an explosives expert, Dad… The only GOOD thing I learned to do right in the Army. I started by defusing bombs… Then, I learned to build them. That was really helpful when I returned to civilian life, if you recall. I won a good reputation in my line of work – and got a lot of clients in the underworld. Wealthy clients who needed my talents…”
“Yes…” Doctor Vincent said bitterly. “I do know that… to my shame. That reputation of yours is the reason why that man Ellsworth contacted you in the first place.”
Frank sighed. “You know Ellsworth was working for the Universal Secret Service, Dad? He wasn’t really… a ‘bad guy’, by your own definition.”
“He still commissioned a bomb from you, in order to kill people! Whatever his reasons could have been…”
“Yeah. I still wonder what went through his head. But I didn’t build any bomb for him, Dad… It was only a ruse. I told him I would build it, to lure him into your clinic. And then, we would have used him, like we planned all along, and never again would he have been able to do any harm to anyone.” Frank looked up at his father. “I never planned to build that bomb, you know that.”
Doctor Vincent stiffened. “Do I, really?” he said, rather suspiciously.
“What do you mean, Dad?” Frank asked with a frown.
“Can you explain to me why you’re keeping all those explosives I found in your room, then?” his father asked harshly.
“You searched my room?” Frank said, in a low voice. He didn’t sound very pleased to hear that.
“I did – you’ve been living under my roof since you were released. I am responsible for you, don’t you remember?”
“That doesn’t give you the right to –”
“Save it, Frank! Don’t tell me about what I have the right to do or not! If you were not planning to build that bomb, what are you doing with those explosives, then?”
“Tell me, Dad, what would Ellsworth have done with those explosives, since he was supposed to be dead? I’ll remind you he was not to leave that clinic of yours alive.”
“I’m fully aware of that. Then what are those explosives for? They had nothing to do with Ellsworth, then?”
Frank Vincent didn’t answer. He didn’t even dare look at his father. The latter started to have a very bad feeling.
“Frank… you promised me you’d give up all your bad ways, if I saved you. You do intend to keep your promise, don’t you?”
“There is another promise I have to keep, Dad,” Frank answered in a low murmur. He glared up at his father, who stepped back under the intensity of his look, suddenly thinking he had understood what his son meant.
“You don’t still intend to avenge yourself, do you?” he said in a near whisper.
“Some things must be done, Dad.” For a few seconds, Frank stared at his father, and then turned away from him, and slowly removed his pyjama top. Doctor Vincent watched him with growing wariness.
“What are you doing now?”
“Preparing to leave. I see that I’ve overstayed my welcome.”
“What?” Doctor Vincent stepped forward. “Wait… you can’t go. You’ve just had a very serious operation… A heart transplant…You have to rest, you must be very weak.”
“Don’t be silly!” Frank scoffed loudly. “I feel perfectly fine! You’ve seen it yourself. Whatever miracle happened to me, it’s obvious it made me stronger – and healthier than I ever was. It’s like I was never ill!” Taking a shirt from his drawer, he turned to his father. “I certainly can leave this house now,” he said. “I won’t be in your hair anymore, Dad. You won’t be responsible for me from now on. And don’t worry, I’m taking those explosives with me.”
“What do you plan to do with them?” his father asked with dread.
“Originally, since I was going to die, I had planned to settle a few scores with my ‘old friends’.” Frank scoffed at his own choice of words, as he was putting his shirt on. “Before it was too late for me to do so. But now…” He straightened his collar, his eyes flashing. “I think I will settle those scores anyway, so they don’t interfere with me having a quiet and happy life.”
Doctor Vincent looked at his son with eyes wide with shock and horror. “How are you supposed to life a ‘quiet and happy life’, after killing people, Frank?”
“Easily enough, Dad… I’ve already done it, remember?”
Doctor Vincent’s heart missed a beat, hearing that callous comment. “You were sent to prison for that, Frank.”
“Yeah. And the one responsible will now pay. And he won’t be the only one.” Frank took a pair of trousers from his wardrobe, and started putting them on. “Now, call Ian, and tell him to bring the car up, please. I’ll get my stuff and will be on my way.”
“You can’t ask him – or me – to be your accomplices, Frank!”
“I am not. I’m just borrowing your car.” Frank finished pulling on his trousers and walked towards the door. “IAN!” he called forcefully. “Come here, right now!” He turned to his father. “Look, if you’re afraid of being involved, just say to the police that I stole your car. They should leave you alone, then.”
“You don’t understand, Frank. I didn’t save your life so you could continue planning to kill people!”
“Don’t concern yourself with that, Dad…” Frank shrugged dismissively. “After all, these two men… they’re only ‘evil people’. So seeing them die shouldn’t be a bother to you. You didn’t give a damn about Ellsworth. And they are far worse than he was, believe me.”
The cold tone in which his son had said those terrible words rendered Doctor Vincent completely speechless. Rooted in place, he watched as Frank looked around for his shoes, very casually, as if he had never uttered those dreadful threats.
“I cannot let you do this,” Doctor Vincent whispered.
“What?” his son said, turning to him with curiosity.
“I cannot let you go and kill people like this,” Doctor Vincent repeated. He barely glanced at the door, upon hearing steps. Ian had just arrived, having heard Frank’s call. He stayed in the doorway, waiting, as the physician continued, addressing his son now standing in front of him: “Not after having given you a new lease on life. It is not… right. Frank, please, forget about –”
“I CAN’T forget!” Frank snapped. “You know whose fault it was I had that weak heart! You know whose fault it was I ended up in prison! Those two, they have to pay for that, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me making them pay!” He waved at Ian, who wasn’t moving a muscle, waiting in silence in the doorway. “Look! Look at Ian. The poor sod… if he’s like he is, it’s because of one of those two bastards! Don’t you want him to be avenged too?”
“I… never gave vengeance a thought,” Doctor Vincent answered, hesitantly. “And… I’m sure Ian never did either.” He turned to glance at the brute, but the latter was still keeping silent, looking from one man to the other, seemingly not quite understanding the reason of the fight. Under the mute question the doctor seemed to address him, he shook his head vigorously.
“No. No vengeance. I am happy here, with the doctor. I don’t want any trouble.”
“Well, for ME, it’s different!” snapped Frank Vincent. “I have to make these men pay – for my own peace of mind!”
A short silence followed, as Doctor Vincent felt that he couldn’t find anything more to say that would change his son’s mind. The latter walked to him, and put a hand on his frail shoulder.
“I am grateful that you did give me that new chance,” he said. “Really. But what I will do with it now is my business only. And I would advise you not to get in the way. I don’t want you to get hurt, so –”
“Are you threatening me?” Doctor Vincent’s expression was one of pure shock. Then it became so very hard, as his son simply stared at him, unsure of how to answer. “You would DARE threaten me?” Vincent snapped again, much to his son’s utter surprise. He shrugged his hand off and stepped back. “ME, your OWN father? Who JUST saved your miserable, pitiful LIFE?”
“Hey, no!” Frank protested. He glanced at Ian who had tensed. He had known the brute for a long time, having met him many years ago, while they were both in the army. He was the one who had brought Ian to his father, about ten years ago, after a violent car accident had taken his family. He knew that the brute, now living in his father’s house, was a simple-minded man, with a slavish devotion to the physician who had saved his life after that terrible tragedy. Ian was totally devoted to the doctor. Strong as a bull, he was also a potentially dangerous man, who had already shown that he was able, and would not hesitate to hurt anyone who might seem to endanger or threaten the man he had come to consider as some kind of surrogate father.
“Dad, it’s not like that at all,” Frank continued carefully, forcing himself not to look at Ian and turning his attention back to his father. “Those men are dangerous and they might hurt you. I –”
“If they’re so dangerous, then you should stay AWAY from them, Frank!” Doctor Vincent replied. “Change your ways. You’ve been given a new chance in life. Look at this miraculous recovery of yours! Show yourself worthy of this miracle, Frank. Let it go.”
“I can’t, Dad,” Frank replied coldly, without hesitation. “This is something I have to do.”
“No you don’t,” Vincent continued, stepping forward and standing right in front of his son. “But I can see I won’t be able to reach you. I saved your life, Frank, and now, you want to go on KILLING people! My God… I had thought that such a close brush with death would have brought you back to your senses!”
He looked away, as the enormity of what he had recently done hit him in the face. It was as if he couldn’t bear it anymore. He saw Ian looking at him with a troubled expression. Obviously, the brute didn’t understand much of what was going on, but was discreetly staying out of the way. It wasn’t as if he would enter the conversation, anyway. Ian wasn’t a very talkative man. He relied on his actions more than on speech. The thought that he had brought the simple man into this foolish scheme to save his son’s life – that they had his help to trap another human being with the admitted purpose of killing him and using him as an unwilling organ donor drove Doctor Vincent deeper into the feelings of guilt he was experiencing over his own actions.
“How could have I been so blind? And naïve?” he whispered to himself. “I probably killed a GOOD MAN so you could live.” He looked down at his hands. To his eyes, they were covered with innocent blood. And whatever his son might do now, he would be responsible. “My God… What have I done…?”
“Dad,” Frank said hesitantly, putting a tentative hand onto his father’s shoulder, “you did what you had to do. What every father has to do for his son…”
“I should have been a better father!” snapped Doctor Vincent, turning around to face him and brushing his hand away for the second time. “I should have realised you would never become the good man I hoped you would be. I should have left you to your fate…”
“You can’t mean that, Dad…”
“I SHOULD HAVE LET YOU DIE LIKE THE MONSTER YOU ARE!”
In an attempt to force his father to silence, Frank Vincent Jr. slapped him across the face; admittedly, with much more strength than he intended to. The force of the blow stunned Doctor Vincent, and threw him back, his frail legs buckling underneath him. He hit the wall behind him, and slid to the floor. A roar of anger made itself heard.
“DON’T TOUCH THE DOCTOR!”
Ian sprang from the doorway and rushed towards Frank who was standing there, rooted in place, as if he was surprised by his own gesture. Frank found he didn’t even have the time to regret having hit his father, as Ian tackled him with such force that it sent him tumbling over the bed, so violently that they fell right over to the other side. As Frank, desperate to escape Ian’s hands that gripped him around the throat, tried to push the larger man away from him, he crashed into the wardrobe, with its mirrored doors, set against the wall beyond. The sound of the glass crashing down on them was barely enough to cover the horrified shout from Doctor Vincent, who watched the scene from where he had fallen.
He saw both men fall behind the bed, and lost sight of them. The wardrobe had fallen on top of them, and for a moment, there was silence in the room. His heart beating fast – and hurting him inside his chest – Doctor Vincent braced himself against the wall and dragged himself to his feet, grunting.
He heard moaning from behind the bed, and saw a hand appear over the top and grab the sheet, smearing it with blood. The physician watched with dread and saw his son standing up.
“Frank?” he whispered.
“I’m… all right, Dad,” Frank croaked. He had a cut across his face, and was breathing hard, as he tried to regain his composure. He was just standing there, looking dazed. Doctor Vincent stumbled across the room and leaned over the bed.
“Ian? How is Ian? Did you kill him?” There was accusation in his voice.
“No!” Frank protested. “I – He fell underneath me… I think he hit his head. I didn’t –”
“Is he dead?” Doctor Vincent whispered. His chest was now hurting him badly. He grimaced. Not another innocent death, Lord, please… I can’t stand another…
“You’re worried about him… Dad… I’m bleeding!” Frank raised his hand to touch his throbbing head but cried out suddenly. He opened his eyes wide when he saw that a big piece of shard was embedded deep in his palm, and that blood was flowing profusely from the wound. Gritting his teeth, he lifted his other hand – and pulled out the piece of glass in one swift tug. He grunted, throwing the shard away.
“I’m bleeding, Dad,” he gasped. “I’ve been cut all over, I –”
“Frank!” his father suddenly interrupted him. With a trembling finger, the doctor was pointing to the wound across his son’s face. It had stopped bleeding. From where he was standing, he could see it healing already, the blood coagulating, and slowly forming a crust. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Frank, you’re healing…”
Frank stroked his face, and felt under his fingers the scar starting to form. Then he looked down at the cut in his hand. It was deeper than the one on his face, but he could already see it healing, slowly.
A smile formed on his lips. And then he started to laugh. And that laugh echoed with an evil ring in his father’s ears. The pressure in his chest was intensifying; it was becoming more difficult to breathe…
He knew what was coming.
“Frank… I don’t feel so good…” he whispered.
Frank was barely taking any notice of him, as he stared at his hand in shock. He then saw his father’s eyes were looking at him, and in complete agitation, showed him his open palm, trembling. “My hand – it’s really healing, Dad… Look, the cut is closing all by itself… It’s a miracle!”
Doctor Vincent saw; but what he saw too, was the totally insensitive fashion in which Frank was facing his father’s sudden illness. He could see it in the excitement with which he was looking at his healing hand, the expression of glee upon his face as he considered this new ‘gift’ that suddenly was manifesting itself to him. It didn’t matter that his father was ill. It didn’t matter either that Ian was lying at his feet, probably dead. Nothing else mattered anymore, but this new-found ability of his.
And the next words that came from his son’s lips convinced Francis Vincent Sr. that his son was lost to him.
Totally, thoroughly lost.
“Imagine, Dad… If I can heal from a gash like this… If I can heal from a heart transplant so quickly and without a trace… Then what could it mean to me! What could I REALLY do now! There would be NOTHING to stop me. NO-ONE to prevent me from doing what I want… No-one to escape my revenge!”
“M-monster…” Doctor Vincent felt a wave of disgust hitting him. His son looked at him with surprise. “Get out of my house.”
“Dad…” Frank tried to reach for his father. The latter, finding new strength inside of him, pushed himself from the bed and stepped back, stumbling.
“Get away from me…” he croaked. There were beads of sweat on his forehead, and he could barely breathe. His chest was hurting him so much and it was so difficult to walk, but he managed to back away from his son. He stepped out of the room and staggered hesitantly and with great difficulty towards the stairs.
His son was following, pleading with him. He put a hand on his shoulder.
“Dad, listen to me… You don’t look too well, I –”
“Don’t touch me!” growled his father. “You’re no son of mine. You’re nothing but a monster!” He escaped Frank’s touch and turned away, falling on his knees at the top of the stairs. Keeping himself straight, by holding the banister, he started to sob, and didn’t turn to look at his son, whom he knew was standing behind him. “Go away…” he whispered. “Leave this house… I don’t want to see you ever again!”
There was a short moment of silence; and then he heard his son whispering something – some kind of apology, he imagined, he couldn’t decipher the words. He felt the brush against his arm as Frank walked by and started going down the stairs towards the hall below. Doctor Vincent, his eyes filled with tears, watched him go; his son didn’t turn back once, as he reached the bottom of the stairs, and then walked the distance separating him from the door.
The door opened, and Frank Vincent Jr. left, closing the door behind him, not even glancing back a last time, not even uttering a single last word.
His father felt his conscience hitting him a last time.
“Frank…” he whispered with regret. “I’m sorry…”
His mind blacked out and he let go of the banister, to tumble noisily down the stairs.
The back-up team of Spectrum investigators they had called in order to help in the search of Doctor Vincent’s house had arrived. Captain Blue left Lieutenant Green in charge of them, while he retired to the living room with Ian McPhee and a Spectrum agent, who stood guard at the door, to interrogate the man on what had been happening since the incident of the previous day in London.
Although McPhee’s testimony was hesitant and full of holes – and Blue had to admit, digressions – it was nevertheless clear enough for the Spectrum officer to start having a good view of the recent events. He finally made his report to Colonel White, while McPhee, handcuffed, and still seated on the sofa, was now quiet, his eyes riveted on the still form of Doctor Vincent’s body, which still lay at the bottom of the stairs. The body was hidden by a sheet that one of the investigators had brought in from another room.
“We have further information that corroborates your findings, Captain,” Colonel White said, after Blue finished his report. “The address where you found Captain Scarlet yesterday indeed housed an illegal clinic. The house was owned by a certain Victor Cushing – an assumed name, of course, as we haven’t found any records of a Victor Cushing. We traced back some of the clinic’s patients – a certain ‘Doctor Cushing’ was their physician.”
“So we can assume that this Doctor Cushing and Doctor Vincent are one and the same,” Blue mused. He glanced at Ian, but the latter didn’t say a word to confirm or deny his assumption. Blue shrugged. Apparently, Ian felt that he had nothing more to tell him. Not for some time, anyway.
Blue started pacing around, as the voice of Colonel White continued: “This is indeed highly possible. Many years ago, Doctor Vincent was forced into retirement by colleagues, with whom he was working; they considered him unfit to practise, after he suffered a severe heart attack right in the middle of an operation – and nearly killed his patient, because he was too stubborn to listen to his assistants and leave the operation to them.”
“He had a weak heart?” Blue said, frowning. “Just like his son? Of course, heart diseases are hereditary.”
“Not quite true in this case, Captain. Francis Vincent Jr.’s military records don’t show any sign of heart weakness. He was in perfect health when he enlisted. That changed later on.”
“During his military service, Frank Vincent Jr. signed up to participate in a series of tests, involving resistance to drugs, gas, interrogation… There was also something about ‘strength enhancement’ drugs… The people in charge of those tests were some very dubious characters, and had no scruples about using and pushing their human guinea pigs to the very limits of their resistance, and beyond. Some of these tests went very wrong, and in the case of Vincent, he nearly died from them. The tests eventually stopped, when an officer supervising them finally decided his conscience had taken more than it could bear – and denounced his superiors.”
Blue nodded. “Mmm. I see… Those tests damaged Vincent’s heart. No wonder he turned out badly – he probably had a grudge against the world. And that must be the reason why he was released from prison on compassionate grounds. The authorities must have felt the government of the time bore some responsibility for what happened to him.”
“Are you SURE that Doctor Vincent put Scarlet’s heart into his son’s chest, Captain Blue?”
Blue sighed. “Sir, the only witness we have might not be entirely reliable, but I believe him,” he answered. “I see no reason for him to lie about it.” He glanced again at Ian, but the latter was still staring towards the body under the sheet. Blue started pacing again. “Furthermore,” he continued sombrely, “while searching the house, the investigating team found that one of the rooms had been converted into an operating theatre. And apparently, it had been used quite recently.” He swallowed hard. “There was a discarded heart in a bin…”
“I guess so.” Blue pinched the bridge of his nose, stopping his pacing. “I’m not a heart expert, sir, but it didn’t look like a healthy heart, from what little I know of it. So I believe that yes, McPhee told us the truth about that.”
“But where’s Vincent, then? After such an operation, he should be somewhere near, resting until he recovers.”
“The last thing McPhee recalls was that Vincent attacked both himself and the doctor.” Blue shook his head. “He lost consciousness after that. But when we arrived, the doctor was dead at the bottom of his staircase, and his son had disappeared.”
“Someone took him, then?”
“Or maybe he left by himself?” Blue suggested. “McPhee seems to think as much. He was quite determined to leave and… get revenge on someone. His father wanted to stop him.”
“It sounds highly improbable that he would have left by himself, considering his condition, Captain Blue.”
“Perhaps – but McPhee said that he seemed fine after his operation… He heard Vincent and his father talking about… some kind of miraculous healing.”
“That’s what he said, sir. Vincent recovered from his operation in record time.” Blue gave a last look towards Ian, then moved away some distance from him, before stopping, a frown forming on his brow as a thought formed in his mind. “Colonel,” he said in a low voice, “I know this might sound preposterous… but maybe the reason why Vincent recuperated so quickly is that he received Scarlet’s heart?”
There was a moment of silence.
“Doctor Fawn will say you’re going out of your mind, Captain,” White finally said.
“Perhaps, sir, but that’s the only logical answer, if we are to believe what McPhee told us.”
“IF we believe his testimony, yes.”
“As I said – I see no reason not to believe him, sir. He doesn’t seem like the kind of person who could make up a story like this. And,” he added pointedly, “He couldn’t know about retrometabolism and all that. That can’t be a coincidence.”
“So if we believe that Vincent recovered quickly because of this transplant – he would have left to get revenge on someone?”
“That would seem to be the case, yes. We found a lot of explosives in the room that McPhee told us is Vincent’s room. Very neatly hidden away. At the moment, we don’t know if he took any of it, but if he did, you can bet he’ll use it to get his revenge.”
“And his father disagreed with that, so he killed him?”
“Or the doctor’s death could have been an accident?” Blue suggested. “There are no marks of violence on his body. Except minor injuries he might have made himself falling down the stairs. We will need an autopsy to know what he died of.”
“He killed him,” grunted Ian from the sofa. Blue turned to him, and could see his eyes flashing now – burning with a cold, barely contained hatred as he was speaking. His handcuffed fists were clenched in obvious rage, knuckles so white, it was as if there were no blood left in his hands. “He killed the doctor,” Ian repeated between his teeth. “He wanted to get his revenge. The doctor didn’t want him to go. He tried to stop him. So he killed him!” He growled angrily. “I’ll KILL HIM, when I find him!”
“Calm down,” Blue demanded, as the guard, standing next to the door made a step forward towards their prisoner. “You’re not going anywhere. Do you know who Francis Vincent wanted to get revenge on, Ian?”
Ian hesitated. He was obviously searching his memories.
“Didn’t say any names,” he muttered.
“What did he say?”
“He said…” Ian frowned. “He said he was going to make them pay… Two men, that’s what he said… Someone responsible for him going to prison… and another one, because of his weak heart.” He sniggered derisively. “Weak heart… He had no heart, that bastard. I know him well. He’s so evil… He cannot have a heart.”
“You heard that, Colonel?” Blue said, returning to his communication with his commander.
“Quite well. Give me a moment. We’ll make some enquiries to find out who Vincent’s possible targets could be.”
“S.I.G., sir. So we’re going after Vincent, then?”
“If only to stop him killing someone else, yes. And to arrest him for what happened to Scarlet, of course. But further than that…” Colonel left the rest of the sentence hang. “Doctor Fawn was hoping that we would find Scarlet’s heart before it was used for a possible transplant, and then put it back where it rightfully belongs. It looks like we’re a little too late for that. I’m afraid I don’t see any way for us to get that heart back, now.”
“I was thinking the same,” Blue sighed. “Colonel… how is Scarlet now?”
“No change at all,” Colonel White answered gloomily. “Doctor Fawn still hopes there will be some improvement soon.” There was a very short pause, as White changed the subject, before Blue could add more on this: “I’ll call you back in a few minutes with more information. Cloudbase out.”
“S.I.G.,” Blue muttered. He closed the channel, and his microphone returned to its place against the visor of his cap.
He felt frustrated. His best friend and partner’s condition was not improving, and he felt, with horrible conviction, that the only way for him to show any sign of recovery would have been to put back into his chest that piece of him that had been stolen: his heart, which had been grafted into the body of a revenge-hungry criminal. A man with murder in his mind, who, while Scarlet was lying defenceless and vulnerable in a sickbay bed, seemed to have made the same kind of miraculous recovery that typically was Scarlet’s astonishing faculty.
It’s because of that transplant. It has to be, Blue repeated to himself. He was convinced of that – because there was no other logical explanation for what could have happened to Vincent. And the more he thought about it, the more it upset him, and the more powerless he felt.
‘I’m afraid I don’t see any way for us to get that heart back,’ the colonel had said.
Short of committing murder, Captain Blue very sombrely added to himself.
“Your friend… the one who died?”
The voice of Ian pulled Blue out of his fugue and made him turn to him. The brute was looking straight at him.
“The man at the clinic?” Ian specified. “He was your friend, was he?”
Blue nodded silently. Ian lowered his eyes.
“I’m sorry he died,” he murmured.
“You’re sorry?” Blue repeated with an angry frown. He approached, and sat down on the armchair, just in front of Ian. “You were there when he was trapped,” he accused. “You participated in his… murder. You told me as much.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be that way,” Ian said, shaking his head.
“Yes, I know. Ellsworth was the one Francis Vincent – and his father, your precious doctor – wanted to trap. You told me so.”
“Yeah – he was a bad man, he was.”
“That doesn’t excuse anything. It was still conspiracy to murder. And you helped in that. You’re as guilty as Vincent and his father.”
Ian shrugged dismissively. Obviously, Blue thought, the seriousness of such an accusation escaped him totally.
“I just wanted to help the doctor. He helped me so much already. Took me in, when my parents died. Gave me everything. He was… like a father to me. And me… I was better to him than his own son.” There was obvious disgust in his voice, and Blue noticed it instantly.
“You said you knew him. The doctor’s son.”
Ian nodded. “We were in the army together. We met there.”
“The British army? During the Militarist regime?”
Ian shrugged again. “My dad said I had to be useful in some way. Only place for me to be was the army. I wasn’t very bright… Still am not… So I would make a good foot soldier. No? Was the worst period of my life.”
“Because that’s where you met Francis Vincent?”
“Yeah. There’s that too,” Ian muttered. “There were other things as well. Bad things.” He lowered his eyes, as if he didn’t want to say more on the matter. Blue didn’t care about that, anyway.
“You didn’t like him much,” he said, returning to the subject that interested him.
“Hated him!” Ian snapped, almost jumping from the sofa, causing the guard to step forwards again. “Always getting into trouble. Always bringing trouble. I knew something would go wrong, but no-one listens to me. Too stupid, I am. Not that stupid, you see? I knew!” He sat back, heavily. “But I did what the doctor asked. The doctor could ask me anything. I would have done anything for him.”
“You loved him so much, then, that you were ready to kill someone for him?” Blue asked in surprise. “You would go that far out of loyalty?”
“Wouldn’t you?” Ian asked, looking up into Blue’s eyes again.
“How about your friend – would you have done anything for him? Wouldn’t you like to avenge him?”
“That’s not how it works, Ian,” Blue answered. “That’s not how I work.”
“Really? Don’t tell me you’re not tempted, then. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t be happy to go after Frank and kill him, for what he did to your friend.”
Blue hesitated; suddenly, he found he couldn’t keep his eyes levelled with Ian’s. He diverted them. It was as if the man had read his mind, somehow, and saw the terrible thoughts he was having. “I will bring him to justice.”
“I will bring him death,” Ian promised. “I didn’t understand revenge before, when Frank talked about it. I didn’t care. Now I know what it is! I’ll kill him for what he did to the doctor. I swear.”
“Don’t kid yourself, Ian,” Blue said abruptly, looking at him again. “You’ve been arrested for your complicity in this affair. We’ll be taking you back to London, and into custody, where you’ll await trial for what you have done.”
Ian shrugged again. “Doesn’t matter… I’ll find a way.” He looked down; this time, he was the one not able to look Blue in the eyes. “I meant it earlier… I’m sorry for your friend.”
“For what it’s worth, Ian,” Blue said quietly, “I’m sorry too, for the doctor.”
His epaulettes started flashing white and he stood up, his microphone falling in front of his mouth, to answer the call from Cloudbase.
“Captain Blue here…”
“Captain,” he heard the clipped voice of Colonel White, “I have further information.”
“You know who Vincent’s intended victims are?” Blue asked hopefully.
“More than that, actually. But I’m afraid it might not be very good news for one of them.”
“Our quarry left a trail for us to follow…”
“Hey, handsome… what are you doing here all by your lonesome?”
The tall man standing in the dark alley had been staring straight at Julia with burning eyes for the last five minutes. She had recognised him instantly; it had been quite a while – years, actually – since she had seen him around, and she had thought that she would never see him ever again. She knew he had been arrested, and sent to jail, and word on the street was that he had died there. But now he had come back, proving that he was indeed alive, and she had to admit, she was curious to know what he had been up to recently.
She looked around; Sam wasn’t anywhere around, so she felt safe to leave her station at the corner of the street, and went to the newcomer, her walk deliberately enticing. Years of walking the streets to earn her living was not so easily discarded. And anyway, even though he had looked unwell from what she could recall of the last time she had seen him, he was a good-looking man, and potentially a client, as far as she knew. She wouldn’t mind giving him a little of her time.
She saw his smile as she approached him. He didn’t look as ill as she remembered. Quite the contrary, he looked very well.
And even more handsome than before.
“Hiya Julia… long time no see,” he said, casually enough.
“It’s been a while, that’s true,” she acknowledged, standing in front of him and striking a provocative pose. “Years, isn’t it? Where have you been all this time, Frank?”
“Away…” he answered, without committing himself.
“In prison?” she asked with a perfectly raised brow.
He chuckled and scoffed at the question. “You think the police are bright enough to catch me?”
“Come off it, Frank. We all know they got you, years ago. It was the talk of the streets.”
“Was it?” he mused. “All right, I’ll admit. I was inside. But I’ve been out for a few months now.”
“What did you do, escape then?”
He laughed. “No… I was paroled.”
“You?” Julia seemed surprised. “I don’t believe it. You’re as bad as anyone can be. And they let you go?”
“Well, they did… I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Is it true what I heard? You’ve been ill?”
Frank tilted his head to the side. “You’ve heard that too?”
“Well, I remember how you looked last I saw you. You didn’t seem that well. So I guess there was some truth in it, then?”
“Yeah – I nearly died, Julia,” Frank answered, shaking his head. “But…as you can see, I got better. Much better.”
“You sure did. You look rather good, for someone who’s been in jail.”
“I do, don’t I?” he said, chuckling. “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through, girl. It’s been a real miracle for me.”
“Well, I’m sure glad you’re okay, Frank. You know, there’s some people who actually thought you were dead.”
He shook his head. “Really? Who, for instance?”
“Me, for instance.”
Julia visibly shivered at the sound of that voice and took a step back from Frank. The latter raised his head; behind the young woman, just at the entrance of the alleyway, a man had appeared. He was casually approaching them, smoking a bad-smelling cigar. Just in time, Julia kept herself from groaning as he came to stand right next to her, and removing his cigar from his lips, blew a mouthful of smoke right into her face.
“What’re you doing here?” he snapped at her. “Why aren’t you standing at your corner, trying to find clients?”
“Come on, Sam… You can see there’s no-one around at the moment.”
“I ain’t keeping you with me so you can chat with useless wasters,” the newcomer interrupted her, pointing a warning finger at her. “Unless this particular waster has money to pay for your time. Does he?”
“I… don’t know. I didn’t ask him,” she stuttered. “I was about to,” she added quickly in her defence.
“Yeah, right!” Sam snorted. He gave a mean look in Frank’s direction. “Don’t waste your breath, luv. I doubt that he would be able to pay you for your services…”
“You seem pretty sure of yourself, Sam,” Frank remarked quietly enough.
Sam addressed him a wicked smile. “It’s been a while since you’ve had cash to throw around, Vincent. I’m pretty sure that hasn’t changed much.”
“Maybe it has changed, Sam. Maybe I’ve got some money this time…” From the pocket of his vest, he produced a wallet that he opened. He took a small wad of banknotes from it and presented it to Julia. “As a matter of fact, I’m quite able to pay for the lady’s time…”
Sam snatched the money from his hand and counted the notes. He addressed a suspicious glance at Frank. “That’ll more than cover her fees, all right,” he muttered.
“I imagine so,” Frank stated. He could see the enticing smile on Julia’s face as she was coming back closer to him. She winked at him, but he was too busy attentively watching Sam to answer.
“But you ain’t going with her just now,” Sam continued, pushing the money into his own pocket. “Consider this a down payment, Frank. Now where’s the rest?”
“The rest of what?”
“Come on, Vincent. You know you still owe me loads. And I do intend for you to give it back to me. Fully and with interest. Do you have enough to repay me back?”
“Don’t worry about a thing, Sam. I am here to pay you back.”
“Oh yeah? Then you surprise me, pretty boy. It would be a first, then. Whenever you’re in debt, you have the habit of running away… I suspect you disappeared all those months ago because you couldn’t pay your debts…”
“Do you?” Frank said coolly. “Don’t lie, Sam. You knew I was in prison. You even thought that I died there. You just said so.”
Sam scoffed. “I knew you weren’t that healthy. I expected you wouldn’t survive there very long.”
“I survived longer than you thought, obviously,” Frank answered coldly.
“That’s enough. If you have the cash, give it to me. I don’t know where you might have found it and I don’t really care. Out of curiosity though, did your old man finally give you what you needed?”
“He did give me what I needed,” Frank murmured. “But he didn’t give me money. What makes you think the money is not my own?”
“Because I know you, Vincent. You’re finished, man. Good for nothing now. You were already out of the game when you got arrested, it’s even more true now that you’re out of jail. Nobody will ever give you a job that’s really worth it now.”
“How wrong can you be, Sam. Obviously, I did get a job that paid me. And paid me well.”
“Then it’s time for you to pay me.”
“I said I would, but first, I’ve got a few questions to ask you.”
“I’ve got nothing to tell you, mate, if it doesn’t involve the money you owe me.” Sam presented his hand. “Give it to me.”
Frank sighed, and then smiled again. Quietly, he approached Sam, his hand in the pocket of his coat, where he had previously put his wallet. He stopped in front of Sam, glaring down into his eyes. Sam was a Chihuahua of a man compared to him, barking more than he could bite, useless against a man, but certainly capable of hitting the girls working for him if they came back without enough money to pay him what he considered his due. Yet, he had powerful contacts in the criminal underworld, and that made him a dangerous man to cross. He knew that whoever was facing him was aware of that fact, and he didn’t hesitate to hold that up as a potential threat, if it should come down to it.
However, Frank didn’t seem to be impressed by it at the moment. Not like he should have. Not like he had been in the past. And Sam was just starting to realise it.
“I’m here to settle all my debts, Sam,” Frank said quietly enough. “And you’re the lucky one, mate. I’ll start with you.”
Slowly, he removed his hand from his pocket and Sam looked down, fully expecting to see a wad of money that would be handed to him. He saw the metallic glint in Frank’s hand.
The surprise froze Sam on the spot. That was just enough time for Frank to grab him by the lapel of his coat and to push him further into the dark alley. Sam nearly stumbled under the brusque assault, until his back came into rough contact with the brick wall behind him. He could see a very sharp blade just under his nose.
“Hey, Frank,” he stammered, “wha–”
“You shouldn’t smoke, Sam,” Frank said, imperturbably looking into Sam’s livid face, now so close to him. “It’s bad, really bad for your health. Believe me… I’ve been through it. I know.” He snatched the cigar from Sam’s lips and threw it down to crush it under his bootheel. Julia had followed them into the alley, obviously surprised by the sudden development of events, and was now pulling on Frank’s shoulders, trying to talk him out of whatever he was planning on doing.
“Come on, Frank, stop this, it’s not funny. You don’t know what you’re doing!”
“Shut up!” he snarled, turning briefly to her. “Keep out of this, if you know what’s good for you!” He turned back to Sam, his eyes flashing madly. “I know perfectly well what I’m doing,” he said in an undertone.
Sam swallowed hard; the blade was now pricking his throat. “Now, Frank… you don’t want to do that… I know we’ve had our disagreements in the past, but –”
“Disagreements?” Frank sniggered. “Tell me about it, Sam. I’m giving you just ONE change to save your pitiful life, and if you’re smart, you’ll take it. Now… I want a name. Just ONE name from your dirty mouth. Tell me, Sam… Tell me the name of the person who sold me out to the police all those years ago.”
“Nobody sold you…” Sam’s words died on his lips when Frank pushed him further into the wall, nearly knocking him out in the process. Sam whimpered.
“LIAR!” Frank snapped. He swiftly lowered his blade and pressed it against Sam’s abdomen. The latter shivered against the contact. “Lie again to me, and I’ll open up that belly of yours and spill your guts into the streets, scumbag! Now, the police could never have found me all by themselves. Obviously, someone tipped them off to where they could pick me. And what do you know, there’s only a handful of people who knew where I was, mate… So you see, I KNOW someone sold me out.” He smiled. “Now, would you care to tell me the name of that bastard?” he said in a sugary tone.
“I…” Sam felt Frank’s hand nearly strangling him. He wheezed, barely able to breathe. “Please, don’t kill me,” he gasped. “I… I’ll tell you his name… It’s –”
“Don’t bother,” Frank answered coldly. “I’m not really interested in your lies, Sam. Because I know who it was.” He saw Sam’s eyes becoming wide with fear. “It was you, Sam,” Frank added, between his teeth. “It was you who sold me out to the police, when the heat was getting too hot for you to handle. And you, you double-crossing scum, you pocketed the reward money for that. A good way for you to get back from me what I owed you, right?”
“No…” wheezed Sam, desperately.
“I know it was you, Sam. I was told,” Frank replied, not listening to the little man. “I spent years in prison, because of you, you know that? My health kept deteriorating in there… I nearly died, you bastard. All because of you.”
“Frank, please, I don’t –”
“Frank,” Julia pleaded from behind, getting frightened by what was going on. “Stop this! You can’t be serious. You don’t want to do this!”
“Don’t I?” Frank seemed to consider, coldly. “Yeah, it’s true using a blade isn’t really my style. I do prefer to use explosives, you know… Blowing up people is more fun… All the preparation for the bomb and all… It’s kind of an art, and I’m pretty good at it.” He looked into Sam’s eyes again, and this time, a very cruel smile appeared on his lips. “But I’ll make an exception tonight,” he continued casually. “Time to repay our debts, Sam…”
Sam didn’t have time to react. Taking a step backward, Frank swiftly and brutally shoved his blade into the other man’s abdomen. Sam gasped at the sudden pain, and the horrible feeling that the sharp object was moving inside of him, cutting its way through his body, causing irreparable damage. He tried to cry out, but Frank’s free hand rose swiftly to press against his lips, smothering any cry that mounted from the man’s throat. Stoically, Frank twisted his wrist and Sam groaned loudly; his eyes glazed and blood started appearing on the corner of his mouth.
At this point, Julia started shrieking madly, as if she suddenly realised that Frank was indeed deadly serious. Frantically, she tried to push Frank away from Sam, in an effort to intervene.
“What are you doing? Stop it! You’re killing him! Stop it, Frank!”
She desperately pulled on Frank’s arm, but the only effect it had was to remove the blade from Sam’s bleeding belly. Freed from it, Sam’s entire body shivered violently; his knees buckled, and he felt sideway, sliding on the wall against which Frank had kept him backed until this moment. Julia watched with horror as he crumpled on the pavement, and lay there, not moving, not breathing, his eyes wide open.
“You’ve killed him,” she whispered, her breath catching in her throat. She stared unbelievingly at Frank. “You killed him, without even blinking…”
“I never blink when I kill,” Frank said very coldly. He pushed the body with his feet. “Sam should have known not to cross me. He had it coming, sweetheart. He was pondlife… Selling me out to the cops like he did… for money!”
“What have you done… you’re crazy! You’ve killed him, you dirty –”
“Watch out!” Frank suddenly caught Julia’s wrist with his hand, holding her tight, and looking into her eyes. “I don’t like being called names, darling. You should know that…”
“Frank,” she whispered. “Don’t –”
Seeing murder again in his eyes, Julia suddenly panicked; she fought with desperation, trying to free herself from his hold, kicking and hitting him with her free hand. “Let me go! Let me go, you bastard! Don’t touch me! I don’t want to die, I won’t let you kill me! HELP ME, SOMEONE!”
Grunting with annoyance, but not using his blade, Frank attempted to contain her, wrapping his arms around her, trying to put his free hand against her mouth to silence her physically. She was fighting back so violently, that she actually was able to kick him in the groin, forcing him to let go; in doing so, he accidentally nicked her arm. The pain, and the sight of her own blood caused her to desperately renew her efforts and she hit him with more force. He did his best to protect himself from her attacks, but was unable to avoid her very long and sharp nails. She managed to scratch him across the face and under the searing and sudden pain, he let go of her. Julia pushed him off, and he stumbled against the wall behind…
… And fell into his own blade, which entered his side.
Frank fell to his knees, and surprised by the results of her struggle, Julia froze on the spot and stood over him, breathing hard. Mesmerised, she watched as he hugged himself, his right hand holding the handle of the blade that had cut him deeply, and which was still embedded in his side. Blood was pouring from between his fingers, and he was grunting in pain.
Surely, Julia thought, he was wounded badly and was down for the count. He would not be able to hurt her anymore.
“Bitch,” Frank muttered. He pulled on the blade to extract it from the wound; then, he forced himself to his feet, holding his side, and raised his head to look in the direction of the young woman. She saw the three long, bloody marks that her nails had made across his cheek, and the madness in his eyes and she stepped back.
Frank brutally slapped her across the face. She fell down, nearly on top of Sam’s dead body. She screamed in terror and quickly crawled away from the corpse, looking with disgust and horror at the blood now covering her hands and clothes. Sprawled on the pavement, she looked up with dread as Frank slowly approached her. The first thing she saw was his hand, holding the sharp blade covered with blood. It wasn’t a knife, she reckoned, but rather, it looked more like a surgical instrument of some sort. A scalpel, maybe…
“Please, don’t kill me…” she whispered, raising her head to look up pleadingly at Frank. The rest of her prayer died on her lips, as she watched, with astonishment, the scratches on his cheek, bleeding so much a second ago, seemingly starting to heal before her very eyes. Frank wiped the blood from his face with the sleeve of his coat, still looking coldly down at her.
“You’ve made a mistake, whore,” he hissed between his teeth, standing over her. “A deadly mistake.”
Despite the promised threat she could hear in his voice, Julia found in herself the courage, the strength to speak again. Her eyes were riveted on the three scars on his cheek, already, impossibly, starting to fade…
“My God,” she said fearfully. “Wha-what are you? Frank, what happened to you? You’re not… you’re not human…”
“Am I not?” Frank brutally took her by the lapels of her coat and forced her to her knees. She whimpered in fear, but this time, did not try to get away. Fear was freezing her in place. “No, sweetheart. I am still human. I am just… a NEW man. With a new lease on life. And I intend to settle all those scores left unpaid. Sam was the first. The Hammer will follow…But before that…” He smiled wickedly. “You, girl… just added yourself to my list. So now it’s your turn.”
He raised his closed fist high over his head and violently brought it down against the young woman’s face, before she could even think of screaming.
Captain Blue stopped the SSC near the entrance of the alley. It wasn’t very difficult to find out exactly which one they were looking for, seeing all the police cars parked in front and around it, with all their flashing lights rotating wildly into the night. A barricade had been set right at the opening, with reflecting yellow ribbon prohibiting access to it. There were policemen everywhere around, keeping crowds of onlookers, obviously clients of bars from all around the sector, from getting too close to the crime scene. Murmurs of surprise were heard, at the arrival of the Spectrum car, and some people watched with curiosity as both Captain Blue and Lieutenant Green, leaving their vehicle, made their way across the crowd towards the officers guarding the security blockade. They showed both their Spectrum I.D. and they were allowed to pass through.
In the middle of the alley, there was another group of police officers, surrounding a white sheet which was covering an indistinct mass on the asphalted ground, lying at the foot of a brick wall. Streaks of blood marked the sheet, leaving little doubt of what it was actually covering.
Blue and Green presented themselves to the officer in charge – an Inspector Gorman – who shook hand with both of them, before turning to lift one end of the shroud.
“It’s a bloody mess,” he announced morosely, as both Blue and Green gazed down at the face of the dead man, whose body remained mostly hidden from their view. “The victim was gutted with such savagery, there’s blood all over the place. I doubt there’s much left in him.” He covered the face of the victim, before addressing Blue and Green again. “His name was Samuel Pierce, a local pimp. We know him well. Got a load of girls working for him. At first, we thought maybe one of them got tired of getting beaten up by him, and got her revenge.”
“You don’t think it’s the case now?” Blue inquired.
“No. It takes strength to butcher a body the way this bloke was,” Gorman answered. “Not a woman’s work, if you ask me. Plus, we found the murder weapon.” He pulled from the pocket of his large coat a bag, made of thick, transparent plastic, and showed it to Blue and Green. Inside, there was a scalpel, covered with blood. “That’s what he used to kill Pierce.”
“How much do you want to bet this blade comes from Doctor Vincent’s collection?” Green asked, eyeing the object.
“I won’t bet, I’m pretty sure of it,” Blue replied.
Gorman eyed both men. “When Spectrum sent that A.P.B. for Frank Vincent Jr., and when we discovered Pierce’s body, an hour ago, I had a feeling that was somehow related.” He shrugged. “Or you would not have come here, so quickly after my call to your London offices, would you?”
Blue nodded. “What can you tell us of Pierce?”
“Oh… petty criminal,” Gorman answered, scratching his chin. “A little fish in a big pond. We sometimes used him as informant, to get at the bigger players. A few years ago, he told us where Frank Vincent was hiding, and got the reward for that. We reckoned Vincent owed him a large sum of money that he could never pay back, so it was Pierce’s way to get back at him. That got Vincent sent down for a long time.” He looked at Blue. “I heard he got out a few months ago?”
“He did,” Blue confirmed.
“So… he killed Pierce to avenge himself?”
Blue didn’t commit himself. That seemed to confirm what Ian McPhee had told him – and that also corroborated the information given by Colonel White, as they were rushing to this place. Frank Vincent wanted to get revenge on the man responsible for him having been sent to prison. It appeared he had succeeded in his quest.
His first target was dead.
Gorman handed the scalpel, inside its bag, to a nearby officer. “I’m sure we’ll find Vincent’s fingerprints on this,” he said. “That’ll be enough to send him back to prison for good. Now, what is it that Spectrum wants with Vincent exactly?”
“I’m afraid that’s confidential, Inspector.”
Gorman clicked his tongue. “Oh, come on now! I called your offices in London as soon as we found this bloody mess Vincent made of Sam Pierce, and you won’t tell me a single thing about your interest in it? What kind of collaboration between services is this, anyway? Seems to me like it’s pretty one-way, don’t you think?”
“Sorry,” Blue said with a reticent smile. “We have our orders.”
“That’s the problem with you military types,” Gorman sighed. “Now let’s see what I can guess, then. I know of Vincent’s past as a terrorist. He was one of the finest explosives experts the underground had. Could it be he went back to his old tricks? That would explain why Spectrum, an anti-terrorist organisation, would be after him.”
“At the moment, we’re just trying to apprehend Vincent, before he kills again,” Blue answered simply.
“So you do think he’s back in business,” Gorman mused.
Blue hesitated. That was a tricky question, and an even trickier answer. From Ian’s testimony, and what had been found in Doctor Vincent’s house, Frank Vincent didn’t seem to have left with any of the explosives he was keeping in his room. Although that wasn’t a clear indication that he had none in his possession. As far as they knew, Vincent could have kept a cache of explosive devices somewhere else besides the house. And he could still use it for his own purposes.
“Explosives are Vincent’s weapon of choice, aren’t they?” he asked Gorman musingly.
“Yeah, so far as his records show. The bastard didn’t like to dirty his own hands by killing someone directly. Most of the time, that is. This messy killing of Pierce, with a scalpel, looks like a new hobby of his. ”
“If, indeed, it was him,” Green remarked. “Although there are strong indications that it might be him at the moment, we still need confirmation of that.”
“In any case, we’ll know for sure shortly, when we retrieve the prints on the scalpel,” Gorman answered.
“Inspector, do you know of any other people that Vincent may hold responsible for his incarceration?”
Gorman shrugged at Green’s question. “The officer who made the arrest at the time died last year of a stroke. He was eighty years old. You can always add the judge who sentenced him, his lawyer who ineffectively defended him, the Crown…”
“Why not add the jury, while we’re at it?” Green asked. He was starting to get the impression that Gorman was exaggerating. Perhaps the police inspector didn’t like the fact that the Spectrum officers were keeping him in the dark concerning their own mission, and it was his way of getting even with them.
“We could add anyone you want – but from what I know, the one person Vincent always held responsible for his arrest was the unknown grass who gave him to the authorities… And whose identity he probably learned recently.” Gorman pointed to the white sheet at his feet. “And that ‘grass’ is lying there in a pool of blood.”
While Lieutenant Green was pursuing his talk with Gorman, Captain Blue was walking around the alley, looking at the scene of the crime, glancing down at the victim lying under the sheet. The sheet was heavily stained with blood, and there was more blood spattered all over the alley. He grimaced; Gorman was right: such savagery with a sharp weapon wasn’t quite according to Vincent’s style. He was more of the kind to kill at a safe distance, detonating bombs under his unsuspecting victims, rather than take a direct approach like he did this time around. Perhaps Vincent took some personal pleasure in killing Pierce so violently – the man who had sold him out to the police and whom he held as the main person responsible for his years in prison.
Well, if we already had an indication that Sam Pierce was to be one of his targets, Blue told himself, we still are in the dark about who else he wants to kill. Now they needed to find who he held responsible for his weak heart. Someone from Vincent’s time in the British military, they suspected, who was in charge of the drug tests that caused Vincent’s ailment. The military records from the time of the British Militarist Government were pretty scarce these days, as most of them had disappeared or were destroyed during the coup that deposed the regime. Whoever that person was that they were looking for – the name was nowhere to be found in what little was left of those records.
At least so far. Spectrum was still analysing all they could find on the subject. Colonel White was confident that they would find something eventually. But the question was: would they find the information in time to save Vincent’s intended victim? Or would they be too late, like in Pierce’s case?
As he was looking down, pensively, something attracted Blue’s attention and he frowned deeply. Now that was odd, he thought to himself. From the marks he could see on the ground, it looked like a bleeding body had been dragged for some distance. But strangely enough, the trail ended about two metres away from where the dead body of Pierce lay.
No… the trail didn’t end there. It started there.
Blue started following the bloody path, barely listening to the exchange between Green and Gorman, which continued behind him.
“You know, after that messy massacre, we won’t hear from Vincent for a very long time. He’ll go underground for a while after this,” Gorman said.
“We have reason to believe that he will probably kill very soon again,” Green replied. “He has another target in mind.”
“Oh yeah? Any idea of who that target might be?”
Green sighed. “Unfortunately, the identity of his intended victim is unknown to us.”
“So you kind’ve hoped we’d would be able to provide you with some information?”
“Well, that was a possibility we considered…”
Blue had walked nearly to the end of the alley, beyond the last officers who were standing around the dead body. The trail he was following led underneath a staircase; there was something like a large wooden board, leaning against the side of the staircase, forming a kind of dark space beyond, where no light entered. A perfect hiding place, Blue thought, as he slowly crouched down in front of the stairs. He tried to see beyond the dark, but without much success, so he took his pen flashlight from his pocket and powered it up.
What he saw nearly made him jump out of his skin.
“Dear God!” he exclaimed. He pulled on the wooden board and it fell on the ground, noisily. At the same instant, the limp and bleeding body of a young woman, who had previously been leaning against the board, fell from the dark space under the stair straight into Blue’s arms. The Spectrum officer heard a very faint moan coming from her lips and he knew instantly she was alive.
“A doctor, quick!” he called. His discovery had attracted the attention of nearly everyone in the alley, and they were all running towards him now, Green and Gorman amongst them. The young woman was sobbing softly, cradled in Blue’s arms; he could see her face, savagely slashed with a blade, and the multiple deep cuts and bruises on her body, through the shreds of her clothes. She had been beaten and stabbed a number of times, and she was bleeding profusely.
“Shhhh… It’s all right now,” he told her, trying to calm her frantic weeping. “It’s all right… Someone will take care of you…”
He could feel her shivering against him, just as the policemen surrounded them. “He… He’s crazy,” she hiccupped, barely able to control herself. “He… he tried to kill me… He cut me…” She raised one hand and touched her face. “My face…” she wept. “My face… That crazy bastard cut me…”
A policeman was leaning down to take Blue’s place, and help to lay her down on the ground, as comfortably as possible, while a medic ran in from the street where the cars were parked. Her blood-covered hands gripped the collar of Blue’s uniform, as if she didn’t want to let go. She was obviously in shock. “He’s not… human…” she gasped, in Blue’s face. “He’s… a monster… He can’t be hurt…”
“Calm down,” Blue said, gently removing her hands and pushing her into a lying position. Someone put a folded jacket under her head, and the medic was now tending to her. Blue looked up at Green, who was standing over the scene, and they exchanged a significant look, before Blue turned to the medic to enquire about her condition. He shook his head, as he checked her with his stethoscope.
“She’s not good, but she’s alive,” he answered. “She’s lost a lot of blood. We’ll have to stabilise her before taking her to the hospital.”
Blue nodded. He addressed the young woman gently: “What is your name?”
“J-Julia…” she sobbed. “He… he tried to kill me…”
“It was Vincent, wasn’t it?” Blue asked softly. She nodded, feverishly, her eyes growing wide at the mention of his name. “We’ll get him, Julia,” Blue promised. “He won’t get away with this.”
“No…” she whispered again, shaking her head frantically. “No… you can’t hurt him… You can’t –”
“Julia,” Blue cut in suddenly. “Please, help us, and we’ll arrest him. Do you know where we can find him?”
She shook her head ever more madly. “No… No, I…”
“We need to find him, to stop him. Before he kills someone else. Before he hurts someone else, the way he hurt you. If you know anything…”
“No… I can’t… I don’t…” Julia swallowed hard and started gasping. Obviously, breathing was putting her in pain. “He said… He said the next one… will be the Hammer…”
“The Hammer?” a puzzled Blue repeated. “Who’s the Hammer?”
“I don’t know… I don’t know…” Julia started crying, and there seemed to be no stopping her now. Seeing that he wouldn’t be able to get anything more from her, Blue stood up, musing. He turned to Gorman, who was now by his side. The police inspector nodded to Julia. “Looks like you were right, then. That bastard will kill again.”
“The Hammer?” Blue repeated. “Do you know what it could mean?”
Gorman shrugged. “If it’s a nickname, it isn’t familiar to me,” he said. “But I’ll run a check.”
“And we’ll do the same,” Blue answered, lowering his cap mic. “That’s a lead to Vincent’s next target, so maybe our intelligence network can find information on it… If you will excuse me, Inspector… He motioned to Green to stay with Gorman and walked a short distance, before operating his cap mic.
“Go ahead, Captain,” he heard the voice of his commander in his ears.
“Reporting the latest news, sir,” Blue announced. “It seems we were right in thinking that Samuel Pierce might be one of Francis Vincent’s intended targets.”
“Too bad we didn’t find the right information about Pierce, before the police actually called us to report his death,” Colonel White grimly remarked. “Please continue, Captain.”
Blue told his commander all he knew, all that had been going on in that London alley where Pierce had been discovered dead. The testimony from Julia left the Spectrum commander somewhat perplexed.
“So it would indeed appear that Vincent has… inherited retrometabolism from this heart transplant?” he said as Blue was drawing near the end of his account. “How curious. And potentially alarming. That’s all we needed. A bomb-maker on the loose, with possible retrometabolic powers similar to Scarlet, and a desire for revenge.”
“And worse than a Mysteron agent,” Blue concurred. “Because he’s unpredictable.”
“You’re quite right at that, Captain. It’s of the utmost importance that we should get our hands on Vincent now. At all costs.”
“S.I.G., Colonel,” Blue answered, nodding to himself. I do want to get my hands on that bastard, he added inwardly. He can’t get away with what he’s done. I’ll make sure of that.
“And as if this matter wasn’t complicated enough,” the voice of Colonel White continued, “we now have added complications as well. I have some bad news, Captain.”
Blue thought he felt his heart failing him. He swallowed hard. “Scarlet…?” he asked.
“No,” White answered quickly, suddenly realising the scare he had given his officer. “How thoughtless of me – no, there’s no change in Scarlet’s condition right now. He’s still resting in sickbay. It’s something else, entirely…” There was a short pause, which permitted Blue to calm himself, before the Spectrum commander continued: “Your witness from Doctor Vincent’s house? He escaped.”
“McPhee?” Blue said with a frown. “How did that happen? Is anybody hurt?”
“No, there was no violence involved. McPhee took advantage of a moment’s inattention from his guard and jumped through a window, shortly after Lieutenant Green and yourself left. Don’t ask me how, but it seems he broke his handcuffs… The Spectrum commandos at the house went after him, but as he obviously knows the area far better than they do… He made good his escape. We don’t know where he might be right now, but I’m sure we’ll be able to get our hands on him soon. He can’t go very far, anyway.”
“No, of course not.” Blue couldn’t imagine why Ian McPhee would have escaped Spectrum’s custody like he did. Of course, he was an accomplice to both Vincents for what they had done to Scarlet, and as such, could be accounted as guilty as they were; but somehow, Blue had had the notion that the brutish, simple-minded man had seemed to have accepted his capture, and whatever punishment his actions would bring upon him. That he had even entertained the notion of escape was surprising – and curious.
No matter. McPhee was but a little fish to catch; Vincent was the important quarry.
“Sir,” Captain Blue continued, “the girl Julia has given a clue to Vincent’s next target.”
“What is it, Captain? Our intelligence services have been working on discovering who it could be from the moment of your first report on the subject. Of course, we are concentrating our efforts on whoever he might have met during his military service period, but we’re also checking other avenues. Unfortunately, Vincent seems to have many enemies. Anything that you can give us might help narrow the field.”
“Vincent mentioned a name to her. Or rather a nickname. ‘The Hammer’.” Blue paused. He noted the silence at the other end of the line, but moved on: “Unfortunately, the police don’t seem to know who that might refer to.”
“They might not know, Captain, but I do,” Colonel White then answered.
That surprised Captain Blue. “Sir?”
“Vincent’s second intention is to get revenge on the person he considers responsible for his weak heart. And we know that Vincent’s heart was damaged during tests while he was part of the Military, under the Militarist Regime in Britain,” White continued, musingly. “We’ve been trying for hours to find out who that person could be. My God, that cannot be a coincidence!”
“Sir, what is it you –”
“Captain, I know for certain who Vincent’s next target is!”
It was the middle of the night, and the door of the lift opened in front of Lee Terence, to let him step into the underground parking lot. He sighed deeply, rubbing his eyes; he’d stayed at the office far too often lately, working some very late hours. His wife didn’t like it at all and he expected to have another argument when he got home.
Well, considering the late hour tonight – that would be early in the morning, when they both woke up. Terence hated to start a new day with a morning argument but quite frankly, what could he do about it right now? He couldn’t leave the office – not until all the details of this affair with Spectrum were entirely finished, and he was sure the Prime Minister’s life was no longer in danger.
Thank God, the alert was now over. The Spectrum Security building, which had been evacuated the previous day following a warning from Spectrum, had been thoroughly searched for hours, but no suspicious package – which could have contained an explosive device – had been found. In view of the possible impending danger, the security meeting with the British Prime Minister was held elsewhere, in a new, secret location, and everything had gone fine, without any trouble. Spectrum had concluded that the Mysterons had indeed given up on following their threat against the Prime Minister.
Now every USS personnel involved with the assignment was entitled to some well-earned rest.
Stifling a yawn, Terence walked to his car, which was waiting in a lone, dark corner; his steps echoed through the nearly empty parking lot. He fumbled for his keys in his trouser pocket, and found them. He was only a short distance from his vehicle when he activated the button to remove the security device from it.
He was opening the driver’s door when a voice, quiet and low, sounded from behind him.
“You’ve made quite a life for yourself.”
Terence, who was about to sit behind the wheel, stopped in his movement, and standing behind his open door, slowly turned around; a tall man was standing in the darkness, beside a concrete supporting stud. He couldn’t see his face.
“Who are you?” he asked with a frown.
“I didn’t really expect you would recognise my voice,” the man said. “It has been quite a while, after all. What… twenty five years?” He stepped out of the darkness and quietly advanced towards Terence. “I was so very young, at the time. Even younger than you were yourself.”
The man was only two or three metres away from Terence and, his face now in plain view under the feeble light, he stopped his advance. Terence looked into it with a clueless expression upon his own features; he couldn’t say he remembered the man – or if he had even met him. However, that he was here was a little worrying; people needed a security pass to enter this parking lot, and they were not given to just anyone. Surreptitiously, Terrence slipped his right hand under the flap of his coat, reaching for the handle of the gun hanging from his belt. Fortunately, the open car door hid his movement, so the man now facing him couldn’t see what he was doing.
“You still don’t recognise me?” the man asked again .
“Sorry, I can’t say I do,” Terence answered truthfully, his frown deepening. “Now who are you, and how did you get in here? This is a restricted area.”
“I know – reserved for Secret Service personnel, isn’t it? I’ve got a pass.” The man waved an electronic card he was holding in his right hand. Terence recognised the design and the colour. It was obviously owned by someone from an office with a lower security level than himself. Yet, it would grant access to the parking lot.
By the sound of it, the man didn’t seem like the card’s rightful owner. Terence had a bad feeling about all this.
“Who gave that to you?”
“No-one.” The man was deadly calm. So much so, that it was unnerving Terence. “I took it myself, without asking.” He casually put the card away into his pocket, with a deliberately slow gesture. “From someone called Clay Ellsworth.”
“Clay Ells…” The name stuck in Terence’s throat. His feeling that something was wrong was confirmed. “Clay Ellsworth was killed yesterday by a Spectrum officer,” he said. “Just as he was about to be arrested.”
“I know,” the man replied, his voice icy. “I was there. I took his card after he died.”
Terence drew his gun. “You’re Francis Vincent,” he said accusingly.
“Finally,” Vincent answered, still very calm despite the gun aimed at him. “You found me out.” He looked down at the gun, then returned his gaze to Terence’s face. “But I see you still don’t recognise me.”
“How should I recognise you?” snapped Terence. “I never met you.”
“Oh, but you did,” Vincent answered with a thin smile. “Long ago…”
“Enough.” Terence cocked the hammer of his gun. “I’m arresting you, Vincent. And if you don’t come quietly…”
“I wouldn’t use that gun, if I were you,” Vincent warned him.
“And why’s that?”
“You’ll make me really angry.” Vincent showed his left hand, that he had been keeping closed in a fist ever since he had addressed Terence. He was holding something in it, something from which a small button protruded, his thumb resting at the very top. “Since you know my name, you know of my reputation as an explosives expert. Guess what I put under your car, that you activated when you opened that door, Mister Terence?”
“Wha…” Terence grew nervous; suddenly, he felt the need to stay very still. He didn’t even dare let go of his car door, which he was holding with his left hand. “You booby-trapped my car?” he whispered.
Vincent smiled evilly. “What do you think?” he asked casually.
Terence blanched. He slowly lowered his gun. “Why?” he asked. “What do you want from me, exactly?”
“Don’t you guess it?” Vincent replied. “Vengeance. For what you did to me all those years ago.”
“I don’t even know you!”
Vincent nodded slowly, his eyes narrowing. “Maybe it is true, then. Maybe you don’t know me. After all, tormentors don’t often know the names of their victims, do they? To you, I was probably just another nameless soldier, that you were free to use, without any thought for the consequences of your acts. Just like poor Ian was, too. So you didn’t know my name back then – how can I expect you to know it now?”
“What do you mean, exactly?” Terence asked, his voice now little more than a whisper. “How did we meet?”
“It was in another life, Mr. Terence. Don’t you remember what you did, what you were, twenty-five years ago?”
“I was an officer in the British army,” Terence murmured. “A captain…”
“Yes. A high-regarded officer, a hero you were. Weren’t you? You were nicknamed ‘The Hammer’ – because you showed little mercy to whoever was standing in your way.”
Terence slowly nodded. He didn’t feel like he needed to deny those accusations. “That was so long ago,” he defended himself. “I’ve changed a lot since then.”
“Yes, it’s quite surprising that you should now work for the Secret Service, isn’t it?” Vincent said mockingly. “Or perhaps your name has been erased from all records regarding certain… ‘war crimes’ you might have committed?”
“I committed no such crimes.”
“Didn’t you? What about those tests, run by the Military, that you were supervising – don’t you remember? Those strength-enhancing drugs? There was bitterness in Vincent’s voice now. “Only these tests had disastrous results, didn’t they? Not quite what everyone expected from them. They didn’t enhance strength at all… on the contrary, they were quite damaging to their subjects – to whom you gave little regard.”
“You were one of those men?” Terence shook his head.“It was… a life-time ago,” he admitted. “I tried to stop those tests, when the first results came in. I didn’t want to participate…”
“TOO LATE!” snapped Vincent, interrupting him.“You participated in them, you low-life scum… Don’t tell me you were just following orders back then, and that you have made amends since! That won’t work with me! Many of your test subjects had serious side-effects from those drugs. Like that poor Ian – he wasn’t very bright already at the time, but those drugs messed so much with his brain that he’s nothing more than a big simple-minded ape today! As for me, I nearly died because of you! My heart was damaged – irrevocably.”
“Vincent, whatever I might have done to you… I’m ready to make amends. Just tell me what you want, and I’ll help you.” Terence paused a second. “To the best of my ability.”
Vincent chuckled. “You want for me to surrender, don’t you?”
“Spectrum is looking everywhere for you.”
“For the murder of their officer, of course…”
“I can help you…”
“In exchange for me not telling them of your involvement with those tests, years ago, I bet? What else can you give me? A full pardon, perhaps?”
“No deal, Vincent,” Terence replied, shaking his head. “What I did, years ago – what I might be guilty of – I’ve spent a lifetime paying for. I hold a very high position within the Secret Service, and I’ve dedicated my life to upholding law and justice. That’s my way of making amends.”
“You’re just a damned hypocrite,” Vincent said between his teeth.
“No. I’m trying to do some good, and I believe I’m succeeding. I was serious when I said I could help you, but a pardon is out of the question. I cannot offer you that. I can keep you off the hook with Spectrum, but only if you agree to collaborate with us. A prison term – even the possibility of escaping the rest of your life in a ten by ten cell – could be very sweet for you if you would surrender willingly – and give us useful information.”
“Information…” muttered Vincent, with a frown. “On my former associates, you mean?”
“All kinds of information, that will satisfy both the Secret Service and Spectrum,” Terence specified.
“The police tried that, years ago. If you know my record, you know that I refused to cooperate. I would have been a dead man, even in prison.”
“You’d be better protected now. Think about it, man. You’re one of the world’s leading experts in the field of explosive devices. You’ve had contacts with various terrorist groups, over the years. That can be used…”
“Ah yes…” Vincent mused. “Explosive devices… Well, since we’re on that subject…” He smiled mockingly and showed his closed fist, with the button underneath his thumb.
Terence grew even more nervous. If he had thought he’d gained the upper hand for the last few minutes, it seemed now that he was losing ground.
“Remember that bomb I told you about, which is supposed to be under your car?” Vincent chuckled, as he pressed the button.
For an instant, Terence thought his heart would stop… but nothing happened. Slack-jawed, his heart hammering in his chest, he stared at Vincent, unbelieving. The latter opened his fist and showed him what he had been holding all along: a simple, silver-plated pen.
Vincent winked at him, almost mischievously. “I lied,” he said, laughing and letting go of the pen, which fell on the concrete floor. “I just discovered recently that I much prefer to use a direct approach to kill certain people.” He nodded slowly. “And lucky you, you qualify…” His right hand rushed to his pocket.
Terence quickly drew his gun before his opponent could get his own weapon out. He barely took the time to aim, and a single gunshot rang out through the parking lot.
Struck in the chest, Vincent fell on his back, without making a sound. He lay on the concrete floor, spread-eagled, motionless.
His legs shaking, Terence walked out from behind the open door of his car; cautiously, he approached the now still body of Vincent, his gun aimed at him. There was a huge stain of blood smudging his shirt, right in the middle of his chest, where the bullet had struck him. His eyes were closed, and he didn’t appear to be breathing. In his open right hand, there was a scalpel. That apparently was his only weapon.
Carefully, Terence crouched next to him and checked on his vitals, touching the side of his neck.
There was no pulse.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered. It had been so easy, he thought, as he looked down into the face of the dead man. Almost incredibly easy. The criminal for whom Spectrum had been searching for nearly two days was now lying dead at his feet, killed by a single bullet.
Colonel White would probably be pleased that the murderer of his man had been put out of circulation.
Terence certainly was.
He put his gun into his holster and, still crouched down next to Vincent, took his cell-phone from his pocket. He quietly dialled a number and put the phone to his ear, waiting for his call to be answered. He heard the communication officer at the other line.
“This is Commander Terence,” he said into the phone. “No, I’m not home yet. I’m calling you from the underground parking lot. I ran into a… little problem here.” He was about to continue when he heard the sound of squealing tyres and a running engine. He raised his head towards the parking lot entrance. He first saw powerful beams, then a very distinctive red car which was coming his way: a Spectrum Saloon Car. Terence sighed inwardly. Apparently, Spectrum would not have to wait much longer to learn that their man’s murderer had been dealt with.
He was about to stand up to welcome the Spectrum officers when suddenly, the dead man he was crouching over opened his eyes to stare squarely at him; taken by surprise, Terence froze and didn’t react; Vincent promptly sprang from his position, and, his fist having closed on the scalpel, he shoved it violently into Terence’s stomach.
Terence gasped in pain, and bent over against his attacker. He heard the mocking snigger of Vincent in his ear: “I told you I preferred a much direct approach, didn’t I, ‘Hammer’?”
Terence, unable to answer, slid to the ground, off Vincent’s blade. He lay there, bleeding, slowly getting numb, as the madman, still holding his scalpel, was getting to his feet.
The shout made Vincent turn his head towards the Spectrum Car who had stopped a few metres away. Two men had stepped out of it, each on their side, and, hiding behind their open doors, were now aiming their guns at him.
“Surrender!” the same voice roared again, with an obvious pitch of anger. “This will be your only warning!”
Vincent started laughing maniacally. “Try to stop me, Spectrum!” he shouted back, starting to lean over his victim, who was still far too alive for his taste.
“NO! Keep away from him!”
Francis Vincent was about to slice his victim’s throat, to end his life definitely, when the two Spectrum officers swiftly opened fire on him; the shock of the multiple bullets hitting him drove him back from Terence and seemingly pulled him fully to his feet. He felt the pain, but somehow, he was able to overcome it – and he was still standing, although bleeding from various new wounds.
He was standing… and able to walk.
He felt so exhilarated; he started to laugh, and turned to face the two Spectrum officers.
“You can’t stop me!”
Blue couldn’t believe his eyes; laughing like a madman, Francis Vincent continued to advance towards them, holding his scalpel – how many of those did he take from his father, anyway?! – in his blood-covered right fist. At least we’ve driven him away from his intended victim, thought Blue as he gave a furtive glance towards Lee Terence, who was lying on the ground, in an enlarging pool of blood. He could see the man moving, but he knew he was badly hurt; he had seen Vincent’s blade strike him in the belly, only seconds earlier; a severe blow, that could lead to the man’s death very soon, if the wound was not attended to quickly.
But for the time being, they had to stop Vincent; he was still approaching, despite the hail of bullets that was presently hitting him. Truly, it was as if nothing could stop him.
For the first time ever, Blue found himself cursing Scarlet’s amazing powers of recovery – now being held by another, who was corrupting the astonishing gift, and seemed fully intended on killing him.
“We should shoot to kill, Captain!” he heard Lieutenant Green shout over the shooting.
Up until now, they had only used their guns to wound, and disable their target. Green couldn’t understand why his superior officer was so determined not to use lethal force against Vincent. As for Blue, he would have had difficulty to exactly explain his own behaviour. After all, the miserable cur was responsible for his best friend’s predicament, and with everything he had done lately, he certainly deserved to be killed on the spot.
But for Blue, resorting to killing Vincent was just like letting go of his own basest instincts – he did want revenge, so badly, for what Vincent had done to Scarlet, and it was so difficult fighting against that horrible feeling… It made him feel like he wasn’t that different from Vincent himself, driven mad by his own desire for vengeance.
I won’t sink to the same level as this bastard, Blue tried to convince himself. I have to be better than him.
However, seeing the situation, it seemed now that it would not be possible to stop Vincent any other way than by killing him, so Blue nodded to Green’s suggestion, if still reluctantly.
But neither of the two officers were actually able to take lethal aim at their target. Suddenly, Vincent, as if understanding that maybe he would not come out alive from a direct encounter with Spectrum, dashed at a run towards the exit.
Blue mumbled a curse, as he fired in the fugitive’s direction. He hit him in the right thigh, but it only slowed him down a little. Vincent continued his run, limping heavily. “He must not get away! I’m going after him!” Blue shouted to Green. “See to Terence!”
“Be careful, Captain, he’s dangerous!”
Blue barely acknowledged the warning and sprinted after Vincent. He had no intention of getting close to that scalpel, but he was determined to capture Vincent – and capture him alive, if possible. His latest bullet had given him an idea, as he ran.
His quarry was getting very close to the automatic door, and only stopped to slip his electronic card into the lock, before resuming his run, as soon as the door started to slide open. Blue stopped in his tracks, and took good aim at his target. He pressed the trigger three times.
Each of his bullets hit Vincent in the legs and, with a loud howl of pain, the man crumpled to the ground just as he was about to cross the door. Blue resumed his run.
You won’t get away, scum, he told himself. I have you, now, and you’ll pay for all your crimes.
He was reaching Vincent when he saw the man pushing himself to his feet, with difficulty. Steadying himself against the nearest wall, he turned around, gasping loudly, his scalpel in his hand, and glared angrily at the approaching Spectrum officer.
“Come on, then!” he shouted at him, waving his blade meaningfully. “Come over here, Spectrum! Get me, man on man, if you dare!”
Blue stopped and took aim again, carefully. “Get down on the ground!” he barked. “I’m arresting you for multiple murders, Francis Vincent!”
Vincent smiled wickedly. “You mean, you want me for your friend’s death in my father’s clinic, don’t you? Admit it, you want to see me dead on the spot!”
“Get down on the ground!” Blue ordered again, detaching each word, forcing himself not to hear Vincent’s taunting. “Don’t force me to kill you!”
Vincent started laughing; a maniacal laugh that sent shivers down Blue’s spine. “You can’t kill me!” he told him. “Nothing can kill me, Spectrum! I can heal from any wound, in a matter of hours! That means, you will never be able to stop me, no matter what you do!”
“I wouldn’t count on this,” Blue growled, slowly approaching, keeping careful aim. “On the ground, Vincent!”
“Come on, Spectrum!” Vincent sniggered, waving his scalpel again. “Be a good sport… for your dead friend. Come and give me your best shot!”
“You asked for it,” Blue muttered under his breath; he slightly changed his aim, and aligned his barrel between Vincent’s eyes.
But as he was about to pull the trigger, a silhouette appeared from the darkness beyond the door and with a roar of anger, pounced with all the fury of a wild animal into Vincent’s body. The latter, startled by the sudden attack, barely had the time to turn around before he was driven to the ground by the weight of his new opponent.
Blue blinked in surprise and lowered his gun as he watched, astounded, as Ian McPhee, sitting astride Francis Vincent, forced his opponent down, holding him by the throat.
“YOU KILLED THE DOCTOR, YOU EVIL MAN!”
“IAN!” Blue shouted. He sprinted towards the two combatants; effortlessly, Ian had snatched his scalpel from Vincent’s hand, after effectively breaking his wrist. The cry from Vincent was a strangled one, so strong was Ian’s grip on his throat. Blue saw the brute raising the blade over his head; he seized the man’s arm.
“Don’t kill him!” Blue yelled into Ian’s ears. “He’s not worth it, Ian!”
“He’s evil! Ian shouted back, struggling to get Blue off him. “He must die! He killed many people! He killed the doctor!”
“Dad?” Vincent wheezed, opening eyes wide with surprise. “Dad is dead…?”
“You killed him, you maniac!”
“No… I didn’t mean to – I…”
“You broke his heart, Frank!” Ian shouted without hearing him out. “You killed him with all your evil things! You don’t deserve to live!”
“IAN!” Blue called forcefully. “Ian, let him go!”
As Blue tried to pull him away, Ian, with an annoyed and powerful shrug, pushed the Spectrum officer off him, sending him sprawling to the floor. He did it with such strength that Blue was taken by surprise; his head hit the floor hard and he saw stars dancing in front of his eyes.
“The doctor gave you a good heart!” Ian said, turning back to his victim, his eyes burning madly with uncontrollable anger. “It was meant as a gift of life… You spoiled it all!”
“Ian, please,” Frank begged in a whisper. “I swear, I didn’t …”
“You didn’t deserve that gift, Frank!” Ian cut in, raising his arm with the scalpel again. “So I’m taking it back from you!” With a strong shove, he plunged the blade straight into Vincent’s chest.
The awful cry of pain reverberated through the underground parking lot, and rang into Blue’s heavy skull, as, still half-stunned, he dragged himself to his feet, with great difficulty. He could feel blood trickling down his face; he felt for sure that Ian had unwittingly given him a concussion, he was so dazed. He couldn’t see quite straight, but straight enough for him to witness Ian finish his gruesome work, having used the scalpel to open the chest of a still living Francis Vincent like he would have carved a Christmas turkey. Blue had seen an awful lot of horrible sights in his life, but he had to admit, this probably topped them all. He turned his eyes away in disgust, unable to bear the vision of the struggling, screaming Vincent, trying to get away from his murderer.
The cries subsided, and Blue heard a final squishing sound, that made him look again. Vincent had stopped struggling, and his mouth and eyes were now wide open. So was his chest, over which Ian, still kneeling across his victim, was leaning, gasping heavily, his arms covered with blood from fingers to elbows. He straightened up and looked over his shoulder towards an obviously still dazed Captain Blue.
“Ian…” the Spectrum officer murmured, shaking his head in desolation. “My God… Why… why did you have to do this?”
“I had to avenge the doctor…” Ian gasped. “The doctor… he killed your friend to give his son’s his heart… I was there. I saw it all.” He half-turned and Blue’s eyes opened wide with utter and complete horror. “He didn't deserve your friend’s heart. So I took it back.”
He let go of the bloody object he was holding in his left hand, and let it drop to the blood-covered floor. Blue couldn’t detach his horrified eyes from it.
It was a human heart.
His friend’s heart, Blue considered dejectedly, which had been taken from its rightful owner and put into the chest of a mad assassin. And then torn from within that murderer’s open chest, crudely cut out, he was sure, by a man who had obviously lost what little was left of his mind in his mad hunger for vengeance.
Paul’s heart. Totally useless now…
A wild inspiration suddenly started to form in Blue’s mind. If it is Paul’s heart… then maybe it CAN’T be completely lost, right?
Blue swiftly removed his colour-coded vest and used it to delicately envelop and, then very carefully pick up the unbeating heart from the floor.
‘We were hoping to find Scarlet’s heart… and then put it back where it rightfully belongs.’
Those were Colonel White’s words to him earlier.
Scarlet was still in a coma on Cloudbase, and Doctor Fawn had thought that maybe – just maybe – giving him back his heart, if they were to find it before it was put inside the body of another person – might actually help him to recover. Blue had the heart now – although it was probably badly damaged by Ian’s manhandling; but if it was Paul’s heart, then perhaps it would still do its usual trick on its rightful owner. The way it seemingly had done with that despicable Francis Vincent.
Blue just hoped it would work.
He barely took notice of the sound of rushing footsteps, as he contacted Cloudbase to inform the colonel of the latest developments – and to tell him of his precious load, that he was now holding against his own fast-beating heart.
Captain Scarlet slowly opened his eyes.
Once again, there was the familiar sight of the high ceiling of sickbay welcoming him, and the omnipresent sound of the monitor over his head.
But this time, he could hear that the beeping was different; and he felt different too. Much better than he had been lately. There was nothing rasping his dry throat anymore, and he could swallow freely. He could breathe… on his own. So he took a deep breath.
That damned ‘coffin’ in which his body had been imprisoned for so many long hours, was gone too. Tentatively, he lifted his hand – and touched his chest.
His fingers encountered bare, smooth skin, without any scars at all. He put his hand flat on his chest; underneath it, he could feel a comfortable, familiar pounding.
His own heart; beating strongly, regularly, like the heart of a man in perfect health and physical condition.
He was back.
He was whole again.
“Hi, handsome.” The voice made him look round and he saw her standing by his side, waiting patiently. Rhapsody. Her face now calm, smiling, and not as worried as he remembered having seen it recently. She looked relieved, happy, if a little tired.
“Hi,” he whispered in answer. His voice didn’t sound like his own. His throat was so dry. He managed a weak smile, to which she answered with a smile of her own. She leaned over him and kissed him.
“We missed you so much,” she whispered back, leaving his lips, but staying close to him.
Scarlet answered with a nod. “I missed you too, Angel.” He frowned deeply, as he looked deep into her eyes. “Was it all a dream?” he asked.
She smiled again. “A nightmare,” she answered simply, taking his hand and holding it in hers, between both their chests. “An awful nightmare – from which you have awakened at last.”
“I’m thirsty,” he said, his voice still hoarse.
Rhapsody nodded, understanding that he needed water to relieve his aching throat. She made a move to stand up to get him some, but he held on to her hand, refusing to let her go and she turned an inquiring look at him. “Later,” he said, smiling again, before drawing her closer for a tender kiss.
She couldn’t refuse him.
“How long have you known?”
Captain Blue was standing in the observation room with Colonel White, both of them watching as Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel were exchanging their tender kiss. The Spectrum commander turned away from the scene, and faced his junior officer; the young man’s face was drawn, and he looked weary. White could see he still had not shaved that morning.
“Rather a long time,” White answered quietly. “I admit they did a better job at hiding their relationship than you and Symphony Angel did, but…” He smiled a little wickedly, and glanced over his shoulder towards the couple beyond the glass. “… still I believe it was obvious. Don’t you think?”
Blue’s brow furrowed. “They’ll be annoyed to find out you know,” he said. “They think they have fooled you.”
“Like you did?” White replied, with a raised brow. “Perhaps for a time they did. But do you really believe I can’t be aware of anything that’s happening on this base, Captain?”
“Obviously, you know everything, sir,” Blue said with a faint smile. “What are your intentions, then?”
“That’s none of your business.” White considered this a moment. His tone softened a little. “I forbid you to tell them you know any of this, do you hear me, Captain?”
Blue’s smile widened. “Loud and clear, sir. I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of the chance of telling them yourself.”
“At the risk of seeing my support for your upcoming wedding disappear in smoke, no…” White tilted his head to the side, looking closely at the younger man. “How are you feeling?”
“You look like something the cat just dragged in. You should get some rest. You have not slept for two days.”
“I couldn’t, sir,” Blue answered morosely. “Not as long as Scarlet was in that state. Not as long as his… ‘murderers’ were on the run.” He turned towards the large window. Rhapsody, who had left Scarlet’s side momentarily, was returning with a glass of water. “But now that those guys have been found, and that Scarlet’s condition has improved, I should get some rest, yes.”
“This mission was not an easy one for you,” White considered.
Blue heaved a deep sigh and turned back to his commander. “No, I guess it was not, sir.”
“When you found Scarlet’s body, two days ago, exactly what went through your mind?”
“I…” Blue lowered his head. “I wanted to get those men, Colonel,” he said truthfully. “Those guys who did this to Scarlet… to my friend. I wanted to get them – well, Vincent, at the very least – so badly… you can’t imagine how much.”
“Oh, I can imagine,” White said, nodding. “Don’t you think the same thought ran through my mind, Captain?”
Blue hesitated. “I… guess so, sir.”
“You wanted revenge, then?”
“At first,” Blue conceded. “Yes, I wanted to kill the bastards responsible for that gruesome murder. I had to fight myself every step of the way. I… might have killed Vincent myself if I had followed my first instinct.”
“But you didn’t,” White remarked. “Although, you would have been justified in killing him – or even Ian McPhee for that matter – you didn’t do it.”
“McPhee is just a poor, dumb soul,” Blue retorted. “He was barely responsible for his own acts, let alone those the Vincents asked him to do on their behalf.”
White nodded. “A poor soul, indeed,” he agreed. “He was another of those subjects the British Army used years ago, during those same tests that were performed on Vincent. Except the results, even though disastrous, were not quite the same for him as they were for Vincent.”
“They might have enhanced his strength, obviously, but they also nearly destroyed his mind,” Blue commented. “Doctor Vincent took pity on him after that, I guess, and took him under his wing. I still can’t figure out how he knew where to find Vincent, to kill him.”
“My guess is that he might have heard Vincent talk about Terence with either his father or Ellsworth. Vincent probably learned from Ellsworth that Terence was now at the Universal Secret Service. Whether it was part of the deal between them, we will never know… Anyway – our investigators found that after escaping from us, McPhee took a cab and, quite simply, asked the driver to take him to the USS building. He probably just waited there, for Vincent to appear – and appear he did, eventually.”
“And then, Ian took his revenge,” Blue murmured. “I guess you might consider that I was no better than the Vincents, for having used him, though.”
“Oh? What do you mean?” White asked with curiosity.
“I stood by and watched as McPhee killed Vincent,” Blue explained. “Maybe I could have stopped him…”
“You were concussed, Captain. There was little you could do. McPhee could have turned against you with that scalpel. In the state you were in at the time, you would have been easy prey for him. I have no doubt that you did what was right during this whole mission. So you need feel no guilt whatsoever for your handling of the situation.”
“S.I.G., Sir,” Blue muttered. “If you say so… I must admit, having witnessed what Ian did, and having seen Vincent’s handiwork – all that in the name of revenge… it was rather an ugly sight. I’m sure glad I didn’t follow the same path.”
White nodded slowly. “You know, I sometimes had some concern that your obvious… closeness, the friendship you share with Captain Scarlet might at some point hinder your judgement – and your work, at the same time. But the fact that you didn’t let yourself be consumed by vengeance during this mission, to avenge your best friend, is proof enough that my decision to keep you as a team…” he smiled, “…was the best decision I could ever make.”
“Sir,” Blue acknowledged, smiling in turn.
“Now, get back to your quarters, Captain,” White continued, turning to the observation window. “Have a shower, a shave, something to eat and get to bed. And not necessarily in that order. I’m signing you off duty for the next forty-eight hours.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Go on, then. Get out of here.” White heard Blue’s footsteps departing, and then the sliding of the door as the American officer left. “And no detour to the Amber Room!” he called over his shoulder. He heard the door sliding closed. “At least not for tonight,” White added under his breath, imagining that his last order would make no difference to what Captain Blue would actually be willing to do.
“Did I miss anything?” a new voice asked.
White didn’t turn to welcome the newcomer; he shrugged dismissively at the question. “Nothing much, Doctor,” he answered quietly. “Their behaviour has been very proper up until now…”
“Oh, very funny, Charles!” White smirked and turned to face Doctor Fawn who came to stand by him. “That’s not what I meant and you know it.” The physician jerked his thumb towards the closed door behind them. “I meant your conversation with Captain Blue, just now.”
“Doctor, with the greatest respect…”
“Here we go…”
“… Whatever the content of the conversation between Captain Blue and I might be, it is strictly confidential.”
“… I knew you would say that,” Fawn said, rolling his eyes. “But should it concern his physical condition…?”
White slowly nodded. “He’s fine, don’t worry. He’s a good officer, and an even better man. I just ordered him to get some rest. After this outlandish affair, he certainly needs it.”
“He’ll have nightmares for days,” Fawn mused. “And probably Ochre and Green as well, after seeing the empty hole in Scarlet’s chest. Nobody could really blame them.”
White raised a brow. “Well, then, if it should be the case, it’ll become your department, Edward. I already signed Green off duty, in any case. He’s going to visit his family on the next shuttle.”
“Splendid. That’ll be good for the kid. And Captain Ochre?”
“He’ll be in New York with Captain Magenta until after Halloween.”
“That’s good. You’re a very considerate commander, Charles.”
“In this particular case, I was rather acting on a survival instinct,” White replied coolly. “I am not particularly keen on having Captain Ochre around the base, on a day where Americans are much too happy to play ‘trick or treat’ on their acquaintances. And considering Captain Ochre’s usual penchant…” White’s voice trailed off as he pictured quite vividly in his mind what kind of pranks Cloudbase’s resident trickster could get up to when given the chance. “Well, let’s just say that I don’t want to give him the opportunity to ‘let off steam’, after what happened.”
“Point taken,” Fawn said with a broad, amused smile. He looked through the window, towards Scarlet and Rhapsody. They seemed engaged in conversation, but of course, neither he nor Colonel White could hear a word of what they were saying. “How about those two?” the doctor asked quietly.
“Mmm… We’d better leave them be, for the time being,” White answered. “I cannot send them both on furlough without them suspecting that I know all about their… em… secret relationship, can I?”
Fawn shook his head. “You can always grant furlough to Rhapsody,” he commented innocently, “while I can sign Scarlet off duty for a few days. That should do the trick nicely.”
“As always, you have answers to every problem, Doctor.”
“Not all of them.” Fawn marked a thoughtful pause. “I still have a lot to learn about retrometabolism, for example,” he added. “I felt so inept during this latest affair… I would not like a similar situation to present itself again. Not any time soon, anyway.”
“I think I can understand your concern, Doctor,” White concurred. “This time around all ended well, but next time… we might not get the same result.”
“Did you tell Blue?” Fawn asked pointedly.
“Concerning that last report of yours?” White replied. “That, even before you put that damaged heart of his back into Scarlet’s chest, his retrometabolism was already starting to show signs of – apparently – growing a new heart?” It was his turn to shake his head. “No, I didn’t. Because there was no real, conclusive evidence that it was actually what was happening. What if you were mistaken?”
“What if I was not?” Fawn retorted. “Colonel, you know that this power of his is amazing… If it was actually growing him a new heart –”
“… And if it was, how long would it have taken?” White interrupted.
Fawn shrugged, admitting his ignorance on the subject. “Hell if I know,” he muttered. “He had already been in sickbay for two days, without any apparent sign of healing that particular wound… It could have taken him days more… weeks…”
“Perhaps months?” White finished.
“I don’t think it could have taken quite that long, but who knows, really? The only thing I am certain about at this point is that when I put that heart where it belonged… the full retrometabolism process kicked in. I almost didn’t need to reattach it properly, everything worked itself out with hardly any help from me. And barely a few hours later…” Fawn gestured towards the window. “Well, you now see the results.”
“So I see,” White said. Thoughtfully, he stroked his chin. “And how about Francis Vincent?” he asked, his voice dropping an octave. “How is it that a transplant of Scarlet’s heart into that miserable criminal’s chest apparently gave him the power of retrometabolism?”
“That, Colonel, remains a mystery,” Fawn declared, sighing. “It was Scarlet’s heart, after all, and perhaps even separated from the body to which it belonged, it still retained some retrometabolic power of its own? We will have to do further research, further tests, to try to decipher the mystery behind that peculiar phenomenon. Scarlet won’t appreciate me taking more of his blood for those tests.”
“And Vincent’s body?” asked White.
“It’s in Spectrum HQ London,” Fawn answered. “To be shipped to our Atlanta research facility, as soon as possible. Since Scarlet’s heart has been removed from its chest, the body has showed no further sign of retrometabolism… the source of that power now being gone.”
“I am rather glad that he is dead,” White said grimly. “He was a nasty piece of work, going on a killing spree like that, just out of revenge. Commander Terence will survive, but apparently, he might have been crippled in that attack. He was very lucky.”
“More so than he deserves, I believe,” Fawn sourly remarked. “If he had not participated in those tests all those years ago… perhaps a Francis Vincent would not have been created.”
“Terence isn’t such a bad man,” White answered. “Misguided, during those dark times in Britain, perhaps, like so many other young men his age. And he did try to stop those tests, and made amends after the Militarist regime fell. As for Vincent… I think the man was already a rotten apple, to begin with. And a man like that with the power of retrometabolism – and I don’t mean a Mysteron, bound to do his masters’ work – that was a rather frightening thought.”
“I can only agree with that, Colonel.” Fawn was still looking through the window, towards the young couple on the other side. “Fortunately, the man who presently holds this power is a decent one.”
“One of the best,” White concurred with a nod. He smiled, seeing Scarlet and Rhapsody kissing – again – and then frowned. “Do you think they know we’re watching them?”
“Naaa,” Fawn said, shaking his head dismissively. “They couldn’t know. Scarlet knows of this observation bay of course… but he believes we would not use it injudiciously. He trusts us enough to respect his privacy,” he said, raising a mocking brow. “He would never imagine his commander playing peeping-tom at him.”
“Ahem. I see your point, Edward.” White turned to the doctor, smiling widely. “They don’t need us indeed. Care for a cup of coffee?”
“Tea for me,” Fawn answered with a smile of his own. “It’s been a long night, and I will go to bed straight after that. And I expect I will be sleeping… for twenty-four hours straight.”
White softly laughed, as they both walked towards the exit. “Barring any emergency, Doctor – I should be able to let you have your rest. You have certainly earned it.”
In London Spectrum HQ, Doctor Lilian Bray was fighting the cold of the morgue by drinking her own cup of very strong and very hot coffee, while making a last check on the dead body in the wooden box on the table in the middle of the room. The body was very pale, nearly white, partly because it had lost most of its blood at the time of its death; the wide hole in the middle of his chest was particularly horrifying to look at, but Bray had seen enough corpses in her time not to find herself overly impressed by such things. The eyes and mouth had been closed and looking at the face only, despite its pallor, the dead man could have appeared as if he were sleeping.
Bray took some last notes on her pad. Male, Caucasian, forty-five years, approximately… She sighed deeply. He wasn’t a bad-looking man; quite the contrary. Perhaps a little thin, but aside from that… She lifted an eyelid.. Blue eyes…
Good-looking chap indeed. what a shame…
“Okay, boys,” Bray told the two men standing at each end of the table, waiting for her orders. “You can close the lid now. They’ll be waiting for it in the States.”
She stepped back as the two men shut the box containing the dead body. Bray took a single note on her pad, before closing it.
Strange, she told herself, and she turned around to leave the morgue. The skin was still supple, despite the body having been dead for more than a day.
She shrugged dismissively. That would be a mystery for the Atlanta research facility to elucidate. She had no time for that.
Beside, it wasn’t part of her remit…
She walked out through the door, giving no more thought to the subject.
This story used characters from the TV series “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” ©, is the creation of Gerry Anderson and Sylvia Anderson, and the rights of the series, once owned by Century 21, ITC/Polygram and now by Carlton International. The ‘British Militarist regime’, mentioned in this story has been inspired by official (or semi-official, depending of your acceptance of those facts) information taken from Century 21 materials, as was the Universal Secret Service. Other events and characters, created for this story, are my own.
I wish to thank Hazel Köhler for her tremendous patience and her ever-helping beta-reading of this story. Any mistakes and omissions you might find are my own and only fault. I’m also expending those thanks to all those who encouraged me into writing this story, when my resolve wavered and I thought I wouldn’t actually succeed in making it in time for this year’s Halloween! So, to Mary J. Rudy, Caroline Smith, Marion Woods, Siobhan Zettler, Connie G., aka ‘Luvmylops’, and (again Hazel), thank you very much for your kind words, ladies!
I hope you enjoyed this story.